International summit on human gene-editing
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, together with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, are hosting an international summit on human gene-editing. The summit, which is part of a major initiative by the U.S. academies to inform decision making related to new gene-editing technologies, is announced in a time when news about novel applications of gene-editing techniques spark public debate and controvery about the ethical limits of research and its governance.
The discussion is particularly intense when it comes to applications of gene-editing techniques (such as CRISPR/Cas9) to human embryos. In April this year, Chinese researchers described their work to use CRISPR/Cas9 to cut and repair DNA in human embryos. Anticipating such publications, researchers in March 2015 called for a voluntary moratorium on modifications of the DNA of human reproductive cells and for open discussion about the new techniques. A statement signed by the Wellcome Trust, two British Research Councils and others, argued against too strict limitations on gene-editing of human cells, including reproductive cells. Reports about DIYbiologists experimenting with CRISPR/Cas9 (though not in human, plant or animal cells) and about UK scientists applying for permission to edit the genomes of human embryos have further stimulated the debate (see also the interview on human genome editing by Eleonore Pauwels from SYNENERGENE partner Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars).
The meeting of the academies is organised by a group of highly recognised scientists, including several Nobel Prize winners (among them Asilomar veteran Paul Berg) and potential candidates. As of yet, it is unclear whether it will involve other stakeholders than scientific experts to allow for a more deliberative process to solve the open questions, one that is geographically distributed and demographically inclusive.
The academies' initiative will also include a comprehensive study of human gene editing by a separate committee, which will issue a report with recommendations to guide the responsible use of such research.