Gene-editing tools should eventually be used to modify human DNA to prevent diseases from being inherited, the US National Academy of Sciences has said, but the group warned against using such techniques to create so-called ‘designer babies’.
Like the recent recommendation in the UK to allow an IVF technique that replaces faulty genetic information from the mother with a third person’s healthy DNA, the report advises genome editing only be used for the most serious cases, where there are no other options, and only under strict guidelines and oversight. It also repeatedly called for public engagement and consultations to be carried out when looking at extending the uses of genome editing, particularly beyond battling disease and disability.
CRISPR is a technique which comprises of short stretches of RNA that can be tailored to match up with any DNA sequence. Once matched, an enzyme is dispatched to snip that DNA and plug the hole with other genetic material. It is the fastest and most cost effective method of gene editing and has been heralded as a tool that could rapidly advance our understanding of, and treatment options for, disorders like cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s Disease. In light of these capabilities, it is also the reason the US National Academy of Sciences carried out the report.
Trials on genes in the lab, and on mice, have been successful, but editing the human genome is a further step that bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-chair of the committee, Alta Charo, says “is not ready.” But, “if certain conditions are met, it might be permissible to try it.”
Because any human born from an embryo that has been edited (germline genome editing) would pass on that new genetic information, irreparably altering the genetic makeup of its descendants, the committee argues we are a long way from being able to use it safely. Current regulations for existing gene therapy, however, will suffice when it comes to somatic human genome editing research and uses.