United Na­tions panel of ex­perts calls for ban on ge­netic ‘edit­ing’

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST -

A UNESCO panel of sci­en­tists, philoso­phers, lawyers and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters called Mon­day for a halt to ge­netic “edit­ing” of the hu­man germline, warn­ing of the dan­ger of tam­per­ing with hered­i­tary traits that could lead to eu­gen­ics.

UNESCO’s In­ter­na­tional Bioethics Com­mit­tee (IBC) said gene ther­apy could be “a wa­ter­shed in the history of medicine” and genome edit­ing “is un­ques­tion­ably one of the most promis­ing un­der­tak­ings of science for the sake of all hu­mankind.”

But the ex­perts said ge­netic edit­ing re­quired “par­tic­u­lar pre­cau­tions and raises se­ri­ous con­cerns, es­pe­cially if the edit- ing of the hu­man genome should be ap­plied to the germline and there­fore in­tro­duce hered­i­tary mod­i­fi­ca­tions, which could be trans­mit­ted to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

The IBC, meet­ing in Paris, there­fore called for a mora­to­rium on this spe­cific pro­ce­dure.

“In­ter­ven­tions on the hu­man genome should be ad­mit­ted only for pre­ven­tive, di­ag­nos­tic or ther­a­peu­tic rea­sons and with­out en­act­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions for de­scen­dants,” the panel said.

Un­less such re­stric­tions were ap­plied, it could “jeop­ar­dize the in­her­ent and there­fore equal dig­nity of all hu­man be­ings and re­new eu­gen­ics,” the IBC said.

The ex­perts warned that the rapid de­vel­op­ments were mak­ing so- called “de­signer ba­bies” an in­creas­ing pos­si­bil­ity, mean­ing that a wider public de­bate was es­sen­tial.

A new genome “edit­ing” tech­nique called CRISPR-Cas9 makes it pos­si­ble for sci­en­tists to in­sert, re­move and cor­rect DNA sim­ply and ef­fi­ciently, pro­vid­ing hope that cer­tain ill­nesses, such as sickle cell dis­eases, cys­tic fi­bro­sis and some can­cers could be treated or even cured.

CRISPR- Cas9 was de­vel­oped by U.S. chem­istry pro­fes­sor Jen­nifer Doudna and Em­manuelle Char­p­en­tier of France, who are among the fa­vorites to win the No­bel chem­istry prize when it is an­nounced on Wed­nes­day.

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