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Japan prepares to allow genome editing in human embryos

8 October 2018
Appeared in BioNews 970

Japan has introduced draft guidelines on genome editing that would permit the use of the approach, including CRISPR/Cas9, in human embryos for research purposes. 

While not legally binding, the guidelines would restrict the use of genome editing in human embryos intended for reproduction. 

The draft guidelines were published by an expert panel representing the country's health and science ministries last month, following a request by the Council for Science, Technology, and Innovation to the Japanese government for guidance in this area, the Japan News reports

While Japan regulates human embryo research, Nature News reports that it does not have specific guidelines on genome editing. According to Dr Tetsuya Ishii, a bioethicist at Hokkaido University, Japan's approach to genome editing was previously neutral. However, Dr Ishii said that the proposed introduction of the guidelines now indicates support of the techniques and will encourage research in this field. 

Japan has a strong history of research in biotechnology, with Professor Shinya Yamanaka of the University of Kyoto sharing the Nobel prize for medicine or physiology in 2012 for his involvement in the creation of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells (see BioNews  676). Earlier this year, a first-of-its-kind clinical trial using iPS cells to treat patients with Parkinson's disease was announced (BioNews 961).

However, Japan has also had its share of controversy in this area of research. In 2014, two papers purporting to describe the production of so-called 'STAP' cells were retracted from Nature following an investigation into fraud and academic misconduct (reported in BioNews 761). 

The guidelines on genome editing are now open for public comment and are expected to be implemented by April next year.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Embryo genome editing research likely to get nod
The Japan News |  24 September 2018
Japan Set to Allow Gene Editing in Human Embryos
Scientific American |  3 October 2018
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