Mixed reactions to work on human embryos

Posted May 9, 2015 by Tim Sandle
News that researchers have undertaken human genome editing using embryos has sparked mixed reactions among the world's scientific community.
A baby holding Mom s finger
A baby holding Mom's finger
S. Raj
Digital Journal broke the news that research groups have edited the DNA of human embryos in March 2015. This is related to work performed in China by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. The results were not entirely successful, with a number of euphemistically termed “off target” effects recorded.
The aim of such germline technologies is to replace faulty genes in early human embryos and germ cells. Significantly, and the point of greatest contention, is that such changes would affect DNA in the nucleus and they would be heritable. This could lead to genetically modified babies.
The report of the work has led to a series of mixed reactions, according to The Scientist. This is demonstrated in a Nature News editorial, which runs: “In the wake of the first ever report that scientists have edited the genomes of human embryos, experts cannot agree on whether the work was ethical. They also disagree over how close the methods are to being an option for treating disease.”
Some scientists are questioning how good the research actually was. Paul Knoepfler of the University of California, Davis, rounded up some concerns on his science blog, including that the paper appeared to have been accepted by Protein & Cell within two days of submission.
In the no camp are Edward Lanphier, chairman of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine in Washington, DC. The organization is calling on the scientific to community to halt all work involving the editing of human reproductive cells. To add to this, The Center for Genetics and Society (CGS) has also called for all work of this nature to be halted.
Tellingly, the study’s lead author Junjiu Huang said his team submitted its work to prestigious journals like Science and Nature, but both rejected the manuscript on ethical grounds. In her science blog, science writer Kelly Hills noted: “Any time any ‘Top Journal’ says ‘we’re concerned about the ethics’ you should actually read ‘we don’t want to be involved in any mainstream media controversy.’”
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