The US National Academy of Sciences has on Tuesday released a report where genetic scientists and bioethicists from 10 countries have agreed that scientists could proceed with editing human genome for the purpose of medical research and treatment - but only with caution and a great sense of responsibility to the future of humans.
The issue of using CRISPR, a human DNA editing technology, to alter human genes with a view to curing diseases and prevent transmission of undesirable genetic traits to future generations has been long in academic debates. And scientists and medical regulators up until now have discouraged further work in this area, but now the restriction is being lifted and scientists are only cautioned to "proceed with caution" in editing human DNA for medical justifications.
Recommended oversight for human genome editing
According to The Globe and Mail, the National Academy of Sciences has in their resolutions agreed that certain oversight be applied for human genome editing, and these guidelines are these. During basic lab research, scientists should use existing regulations to oversee human genome editing in laboratory studies. In the case of somatic genome editing where genetic edits cannot be transferred to future generations, scientists should apply existing regulations developed for gene therapy to oversee clinical trials of changing DNA in somatic cells.
In the case of germline genome editing where genetic edits can be inherited by future generations, regulators should permit scientists to carry out clinical trials only for treating and preventing serious diseases and disabilities or for other compelling purposes. In the case where human enhancement is involved, scientists are discouraged from proceeding further on this but to limit themselves to treating and preventing terrible diseases and disabilities, while also encouraging the public to make inputs in somatic genome editing for other worthwhile purposes.
Ethical issues with human genome engineering
As commendable as this move is, scientists and people everywhere are worried about dimensions to this approval for human DNA editing, the New York Times reports. Richard Hynes, a cancer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said scientists should now be worried that human genome editing is used only for the right things and never for the wrong things.
All ethicists agreed in the report that human genome editing must never be used to enhance an individual's DNA with desirable traits to enable them being passed to future generations. For now, policymakers do not want the DNA editing technology to be used for engineering desirable genetic traits that modify the medical health and physiological traits of future generations.