WHO: Human Germline Gene Editing Is “Irresponsible” Without Careful Controls

A panel of gene-editing experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that, without a central registry of human gene-editing research and other precautionary measures, it would be “irresponsible” for scientists to engage in germline editing experiments.

A registry is necessary, the panel said, “in order to create an open and transparent database of ongoing work.”

The panel was established in December 2018 in response to reports that a rogue Chinese researcher operating outside of institutional constraints had edited the germline genomes of twin babies to make them immune to human immunodeficiency virus infection. The panel included scientists and ethicists from seven countries and met in Geneva, Switzerland, to work toward establishing a framework for setting future standards for this area of research.

Until such standards are developed, the WHO panel called for a global moratorium on gene editing of human eggs, sperm, or embryos. Instead, any human gene-editing work should be conducted for research purposes only – not in human clinical trials.

In response to the panel’s recommendations, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, recognized the uncharted territory of human gene editing: “Gene editing holds incredible promise for health, but it also poses some risks, both ethically and medically.”

The panel outlined goals for the next two years, including developing tools and guidance for this new technology, as well as a framework for national, local, and international authorities to ensure that gene-editing is conducted ethically.

Source: Reuters, March 19, 2019.