Page URL: https://www.bionews.org.uk/page_161633

Editing the Human Genome: Where Are We Now? What Happens Next?

Progress Educational Trust
Event to be held online, via Zoom Video Webinars
2 March 2022 5.30pm-7.30pm (GMT)

A free-to-attend online event about the science, medicine, ethics and regulation of genome editing and epigenome editing.

Speakers at the Progress Educational Trust's FREE-to-attend public event 'Editing the Human Genome: Where Are We Now? What Happens Next?', being held online on Wednesday 2 March 2022 Speakers include:

  • Katherine Littler (Co-Lead of the World Health Organisation's Global Health Ethics and Governance Unit)

  • Professor Kathy Niakan (Director of the University of Cambridge's Centre for Trophoblast Research, and leader of the first research that involved editing the genomes of human embryos in order to study the function of a gene)

  • Professor Wolf Reik (Founding Director of the Cambridge Institute of Science at Altos Labs, and Principal Investigator at the Babraham Institute)

  • Professor Henry Greely (Director of Stanford University's Centre for Law and the Biosciences, and author of books including CRISPR People: The Science and Ethics of Editing Humans)

  • Nick Meade (Joint Interim Chief Executive, and Director of Policy, at Genetic Alliance UK)

The event will be chaired jointly by:

  • Professor Robin Lovell-Badge (Chair of Trustees at PET, and Chair of the Planning Committee for the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing)

  • Sarah Norcross (Director of PET)

This event is produced by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with Cambridge Reproduction (based at the University of Cambridge), with additional sponsorship from the Anne McLaren Memorial Trust Fund and the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists.

Human genome editing – the deliberate alteration of selected DNA sequences in living human cells – has become one of the defining technologies of 21st century science and medicine.

The science, ethics and regulation of human genome editing have, in recent years, been the subject of two International Summits, three reports by the World Health Organisation (WHO), a joint report by the UK's Royal Society and the USA's National Academies, and reports by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 2023 will see the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing take place in UK.

One area that has led to particularly heated debate is germline genome editing (editing genomes in sperm, eggs, early embryos, or their precursors). Human germline genome editing has been established as an important tool in basic research, but there is broad consensus that it is not currently appropriate for clinical use. The one known instance in which germline genome editing has been used clinically in humans (which occurred in China) was the subject of a major scandal.

At the same time, it is important not to lose sight of somatic genome editing (editing genomes in cells other than those mentioned above). Human somatic genome editing is delivering important insights and achievements, not just in research but also in cutting-edge treatments. Like any innovative field of biomedicine, however, somatic genome editing raises questions and challenges of its own.

Finally, there is parallel work on editing the human epigenome. The field of epigenome editing employs similar technology to genome editing, but involves making enduring changes to patterns of gene expression without making any changes to a DNA sequence.

This PET event will see experts and advocates – including a representative of the WHO – address questions including:

  • What can the use of genome editing in basic research tell us about human developmental biology?

  • What else can realistically be achieved with human genome editing at present? What might be achieved in future?

  • What are the similarities and differences between different categories of human genome editing – for example, somatic vs germline and research vs treatment – and how should genome editing in each of these categories be pursued and regulated?

  • Where does epigenome editing fit into these categories? Should it be considered heritable (because it can potentially result in changes that are inherited), or is this misleading (because in theory these changes can always be reversed)?

  • To what extent is it feasible to monitor and regulate human genome (and epigenome) editing internationally, as well as nationally? How might this be achieved?

  • What lessons can be learned from the scandal that surrounded the inappropriate clinical use of human germline genome editing in China? How, if at all, might we decide that the time is right to permit (appropriately regulated) clinical uses of germline genome editing?

  • How can we distinguish between reality and hype in the field of human somatic genome editing? How might we ensure that the benefits of somatic genome editing are made available, safely and equitably, across the globe?

  • What do patients and the wider public think about these issues? How can they make their voice heard?

A collection of background readings on this topic can be found toward the bottom of this webpage.

If discussing this event on social media, please use the hashtag #HumanGenomeEditing

Attendees will not be audible or visible during this online event, but will still be able to put questions and comments to the speakers and chair, via a Q&A tool within Zoom Video Webinars.