It has been an important few weeks for genetic and reproductive medicine, with outcomes from two major meetings that could be profound for society.
First, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Washington, DC, USA, concluded that clinical research into gene editing of somatic cells should continue, but that at present it would be irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of germline editing without a better understanding of the risks and benefits, and without broad societal consensus.
On the other hand, at a meeting in London organised by the UK’s Progress Educational Trust, and involving many of the same researchers who were at the Washington Summit, a more positive theme emerged. The UK is well positioned to lead research into somatic and germline editing, having both the scientific expertise and the societal, parliamentary, and regulatory frameworks within which to debate, consult, legislate, and monitor use of new techniques.
Earlier this year, the UK became the first country in the world to legislate in favour of mitochondrial donation, after years of debate about its safety, efficacy, and ethics. Leading the discussion and advocating for change were families affected by severe mitochondrial diseases, whose suffering persuaded many sceptics or objectors.
Science is moving fast with gene editing tools such as CRISPR/Cas9 revolutionising the possibilities, and key regulators of primordial germ cells such as SOX17—BLIMP1 better understood. Now that somatic cells can be reprogrammed to become germ cells, with viable gametes and even live young generated from mouse induced pluripotent stem cells, the boundary between somatic and germline editing has become blurred.
Patients are often the most effective advocates for novel treatments and have different perceptions of risk. A future in which prevention of some diseases caused by single-gene mutations is likely; even disorders caused by multiple genes might be preventable. The UK is well placed to lead the debate on the future of genome and embryo engineering. Managing, rather than avoiding, risk for the benefit of patients and society is the key.
Source: The Lancet – Read full article here.