A new report put out by the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine states that gene editing methods should be allowed as long as they are carefully monitored.
Scientists have been able to splice DNA for decades. However, that technology has never been more advanced than it is today. New gene-editing methods like CRISPR/Cas9 have given scientists new ways to edit human DNA and experiment with gene-edited livestock. Not only is the process readily available, it is also relatively easy to use.
That is good news for researchers who work towards treating diseases, but the new technology also has created ethical concerns. Many worry that editing traits could affect future generations and lead to large-scale genetic shifts. The United States has passed legislation preventing the government from funding such research.
However, the new report recommends gene editing research as long as it is done responsibly and within ethical guidelines, Gizmodo reports.
The researchers suggest that scientists need to be extremely careful with germline editing for curing inherited diseases. To do this, such procedures should only be allowed with a lot of oversight in situations where researchers have no better treatment options. In addition, they also have to know that the genes they are editing cause the disease at hand, and the process has to be followed up with clinical trials as well as multi-generational studies.
“Genome editing research is very much an international endeavor, and all nations should ensure that any potential clinical applications reflect societal values and be subject to appropriate oversight and regulation,” said committee co-chair Richard Hynes, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, in a statement. “These overarching principles and the responsibilities that flow from them should be reflected in each nation’s scientific community and regulatory processes.”
The academies also say that the editing of germline cells for human enhancement should not be allowed yet. Rather, they want to see more public discussion on the topic before any large decisions are made. In addition, researchers need to work out who would conduct such techniques and figure out how much they would cost.
“Human genome editing holds tremendous promise for understanding, treating, or preventing many devastating genetic diseases, and for improving treatment of many other illnesses,” said Alta Charo, co-chair of the study committee and Sheldon B. Lubar Distinguished Chair and Warren P. Knowles Professor of Law and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin. “However, genome editing to enhance traits or abilities beyond ordinary health raises concerns about whether the benefits can outweigh the risks, and about fairness if available only to some people.”