Man with test tube and DNA strands across screen.

Gene Breakthrough Creates Backlash Among Scientists

Some medical bodies from around the globe have come together to call for a halt in the progress of gene editing in humans after a significant breakthrough was discovered by the scientific community. Some groups merely want to slow down the pace of testing until discussion of ethical considerations can catch up.

We can all agree that that world [of eugenics and designer babies] doesn’t feel very comfortable…

A team from Oregon Health and Science University, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, recently conducted an in-depth study based on editing “many tens” of embryos.

According to reports, a paper detailing the correction of defective genes in human embryos using CRISPR will soon be published by the team. CRISPR is an abbreviation of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. Basically, it is a genetic engineering tool that uses bacterium to build and replace the repeated sequences in strands.

MIT Tech Review states that the latest results are the most promising so far and more will be revealed once the paper has been released.

In light of medical progress in this area, the Globe and Mail state that the American Journal of Human Genetics has published a policy statement signed by 11 organizations from around the globe, including the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors. It  calls for a “cautious but pro-active approach” as the scientific community moves forward at a rapid rate.

Ban Gene Editing on Human Embryos?

The report says that the statement includes an agreement that gene editing should not be performed in embryos from human pregnancies. The paper highlights that the embryos used in the Oregon study were only tested for research purposes, and were not taken any further.

Medical graphic with hearts, boy, and a signal line.

The policy also details several criteria that should be adhered to before clinical trials can take place, or for when public funds can be allocated to the research. At present, the US government doesn’t allocate federal funding to organizations conducting genetic research on embryos. The Oregon research team were funded by the university.

“We don’t want it to go speeding ahead,” Kelly Ormond, a genetics professor at Stanford University and lead author of the policy statement, said. “We want people to be very transparent about what’s happening and we want things to undergo good ethics review, and for society to actually be engaged in these dialogues now while this research is just starting to happen.”

According to reports, Ormond believes it’s “important to be pro-active in talking and thinking about the issues related to the technology, and starting a broader conversation of how gene editing should and will be used.”

“We can all agree that that world [of eugenics and designer babies] doesn’t feel very comfortable, and I think most of us don’t want to go there. So we need to find ways to prevent that from happening,” she added.

Meanwhile, New Scientist states that there are a few groups around the globe currently working on gene editing in human embryos, using the CRISPR technique. Some groups are conducting studies on correcting genetic disorders while others are focusing on improving fertility processes.

Experts claim that unless a policy or regulatory body is put in place to regulate the community and to monitor its progression, science could be pushed too far. Gene editing could lead to a “perfect” or “super-human” race, or even go the other way and create “fighting machines.” The science can be dangerous, but it also hold tremendous promise to make a bold impact in the world.

About Staff Writer

This article was written by a member of the Bold Business editorial team.

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