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Americans becoming open to human genome editing

21 August 2017
Appeared in BioNews 914

A new survey suggests that Americans are becoming more accepting of the use of genome editing in humans, and there is strong support for more public involvement in discussions on the technology.

The results, published in the journal Science, come just one week after scientists successfully used genome editing to correct a disease-causing mutation in human embryos (see BioNews 912). The survey aimed to gauge the American public's attitudes toward the technology, and ascertain whether they want to be included in shaping future policy around its use.

Around two-thirds of respondents felt that 'therapeutic' genome editing to treat disease in humans was generally acceptable, an increase from previous surveys (see BioNews 862). This included treatments that would correct mutations in both somatic cells and germ cells, such as eggs and sperm. However, that support dropped when it came to using genome editing to enhance healthy humans (e.g to increase IQ or change eye colour), with only one-third of respondents feeling that this was an acceptable use.

The survey, conducted by researchers from the University of Madison-Wisconsin, the Morgridge Institute for Research, Wisconsin, and Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also found that a respondent's religious beliefs and level of scientific knowledge influenced their level of support.

People with religious beliefs were generally less supportive for both treatment and enhancement purposes than people who classed themselves as not religious, while respondents with a higher level of scientific knowledge were more likely to be supportive of genome editing for disease treatment than those with less. Interestingly, high-knowledge respondents had strong views both for and against human genome editing for enhancement, with about 41 per cent being supportive and a similar percentage being against it, while around half of low-knowledge respondents were neither for nor against this use of genome editing.

Despite the split in opinion on acceptable uses of genome editing, almost all respondents agreed that the public should be involved in conversations between scientists and policymakers about the role genome editing will play in society. However, it is still unclear how that process of dialogue with the public will happen.

Professor Dietram Schufele at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, who led the research, said: 'The public may be split along lines of religiosity or knowledge with regard to what they think about the technology and scientific community, but they are united in the idea that this is an issue that requires public involvement … Our findings show very nicely that the public is ready for these discussions and that the time to have the discussions is now, before the science is fully ready and while we have time to carefully think through different options regarding how we want to move forward.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Americans are becoming more open to human genome editing, survey finds, but concerns remain
Science |  10 August 2017
Americans want a say in human genome editing, survey shows
Los Angeles Times |  11 August 2017
Attitudes on human genome editing vary, but all agree conversation is necessary
University of Wisconsin-Madison |  10 August 2017
US attitudes on human genome editing
Science |  11 August 2017
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