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article imageShould there be a halt on germline editing?

By Tim Sandle     Mar 22, 2015 in Science
Following news that some research groups have edited the DNA of human embryos, some leading scientists have requested that gene editing of human reproductive cells be halted.
Gene-editing technologies must not be used to edit human eggs, sperm, or embryos, and if such work has taken place, then it should stop immediately. This is the call made by Edward Lanphier, chairman of the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine in Washington, DC. The group are calling on the scientific to community to halt all work involving the editing of human reproductive cells. The reason is because scientists know far too little about the safety risks to make any attempts at modifying germ cells or embryos. Importantly, germline genome alterations are permanent and heritable.
Germline technologies aim to replace faulty genes in early human embryos and germ cells. Such changes would affect DNA in the nucleus and they would be heritable. Ultimately, such technology would create a genetically modified baby. According to New Scientist, there are reports that scientists in China, the U.S. and the biotech industry have done this kind of genetic engineering in the laboratory.
On behalf of the group, Lanphier writes: “In our view, genome editing in human embryos using current technologies could have unpredictable effects on future generations. This makes it dangerous and ethically unacceptable.”
The group add that “Philosophically or ethically justifiable applications for this technology—should any ever exist—are moot until it becomes possible to demonstrate safe outcomes and obtain reproducible data over multiple generations. Should a truly compelling case ever arise for the therapeutic benefit of germ­line modification, we encourage an open discussion around the appropriate course of action."
Setting out his group's concerns further, Lanphier told MIT Technology Review that many scientists working on gene and cell therapy are concerned about where things may go.
Lanphier, fears that unsanctioned work could lead to public protests and political concerns that would ultimately impede research involving the genetic editing of somatic cells. In the meantime, the group feels that there needs to be broad public debate and discussion.
More about Germline Editing, Genetics, Moratorium
 
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