Stop Making Gene-Edited Babies: Concerned Scientists

File photo.

By SHARON BEGLEY @sxbegle MARCH 13, 2019

STAT – The Chinese scientist who created “CRISPR babies,” He Jiankui, sincerely believed that the research violated neither his country’s laws nor the guidelines of the international scientific community, according to his friends and colleagues.

He didn’t exactly keep his experiment secret: He told at least four U.S. scientists that he was considering establishing pregnancies with genome-edited IVF embryos, enlisted a U.S. scientist to work at his Shenzhen lab, teamed with a Chinese hospital and IVF clinic, and proudly announced the birth of “Nana” and “Lulu” on YouTube in November.

Though researchers forcefully condemned He’s work as unethical and a breach of a scientific red line — and while the Chinese government has since accused him of breaking their laws — He clearly hadn’t gotten the memo.

Now, in an effort to prevent another He, 18 scientists from seven countries have called for “a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing” — that is, changing DNA in sperm, eggs, or early embryos to make genetically altered children, alterations that would be passed on to future generations.

They say a moratorium should be in place for at least five years.

In a statement, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said that “NIH strongly agrees that an international moratorium should be put into effect immediately.”

But even before its publication Wednesday in Nature, the paper had scientists lining up for or against what they call “the M word”: whether a moratorium is the best way to prevent another He without stifling what might one day be a safe and beneficial technology, and even whether a moratorium is currently in place. As Nature editorializes, “so far, there is no sign of a resolution.”

The authors calling for a moratorium include Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for the Study of Pathogens, … Read more. 

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