The International Summit on Human Gene Editing convened to ask one big question. How far should be scientists allowed to go when they are editing human DNA? There were hundreds of scientists from all over the world gathered in Washington, D.C, on December 1-3, 2015. They discussed scientific, as well as medicinal, ethical, and governance problems that are connected with advances in human gene-editing research from recently. Some people say that this was a historic meeting to debate one of the most controversial subjects in science nowadays. About 500 scientists, as well as doctors, bioethicists, legal experts, historians, patient advocated and other gathered in this summit sponsored by the U.S National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Medicine and Co-hosted with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of U.K., to debate about “How far should scientists go when they edit DNA?
David Baltimore, the Nobel laureate of the California Institute of Technology, said:
“There is a possibility that we are on the cusp of a new era in the history of humans. The principal question is when, if ever, we would want to use gene editing for changing the human inheritance?”
The main focus on the summit was should scientists be permitted to use powerful new genetic engineering techniques for editing the genes in the human eggs, sperm or embryos, as this could probably raise a host of thorny safety and ethical issues. Hundreds of scientists and ethicists from about 20 countries in the world, who attended the summit, believe that the new tools for editing the human genetic code will produce a lot of benefits like finding new ways of preventing and treating diseases.
The tools are planned to edit genes inside the living cells, to slice, as well as repair or replace specific sections of DNA.
This will allow scientists to make very precise changes in DNA, much more easily than it was before. This is something like a biological version of the cut-and-paste feature in a word processing software. For example, CRISPR-Cas9 is a fast, as well as cheap and powerful new genetic engineering technique. It is used for editing genes in human eggs, the sperm of embryos. According to the beliefs of some scientists, these new techniques will help in the prevention and treating diseases, which include AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Opposite of this, the ability to edit DNA by using such new techniques are raising a lot of fears. This is because mistakes in gene editing could inadvertently introduce some new diseases into the human gene pool. Furthermore, it can also be passed down to the future generations. But, this can help in preventing and treating a lot of inherited diseases, which include Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and Tay-Sachs disease. Creating children that would be smarter, taller, as well as have other supposedly desirable traits is also a rising fear.
George Church of the Harvard University said:
“I think that enhancement will creep in the door regarding treating some severe diseases.”
Once again, Nobel laureate David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology said:
“We sense that we are very confined to have the ability to alert human heredity.”
The laws, as well as the guidelines widely, vary between different countries about what germline or hereditary research is permitted. Some ban any research. In addition, some of them permit only lab research but not pregnancies and some have no policies. In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health will not fund germline research, but some private funding is permitted instead.
The White House’s John P. Holdren noted that what one country attempts “will have consequences in other countries.”
The organizing committee for the summit stated on human gene-editing research, as well as on its potential applications which include uses that could alert the human germline, after three days of debate. David Baltimore said:
“That statement is just our answer to the question of whether there should be a ban or not.”
Sarah Gray, who is a member of the American Association of Tissue Banks said the following:
“If you have the skills, as well as the knowledge to fix such diseases, then you should do it.”
She had a son who suffered before dying of genetic disorder six days after he was born.
A lot of scientists said that it is not too early to consider the biggest ethical quandary: Should they be allowed to edit the human DNA?