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Experts Advise Against Human Genome Editing as Too Risky


FILE - An embryo receives a small dose of Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA in a sperm injection microscope in a laboratory in Shenzhen, in southern China's Guangdong province, Oct. 9, 2018.

A group of experts meeting for the first time to examine the pros and cons of human genome editing say it would be “irresponsible” to engage in this procedure at this time.

Late last year, a Chinese scientist triggered an international storm when he announced he had created the first gene-edited babies. He said he had edited the DNA of the twin girls to protect them from HIV.

Having met at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva earlier this week, the 18-person panel warned the procedure is too risky and should not be attempted before a system of strong rules governing this technique are established. Co-chair of the advisory committee, Margaret Hamburg, said the group has agreed on a set of core principles.

She said the panel recommends the WHO create a registry for human genome editing research. Under this system, she said scientific work in these technologies would be registered in a transparent way.

“We think it is very important to establish this registry to get a better sense of the research that is going on around the world, greater transparency about it, and in fact greater accountability in terms of assuring that research meets standards in terms of science and ethics,” Hamburg said.

The experts agree this would preclude the kind of secrecy that surrounded the work of the Chinese scientist. She said the panel would like this transparency to extend to the publication of manuscripts that emerge from important research. Hamburg said publishers will be asked to ensure the research has been registered with the WHO before it is publicized.

Hamburg said developing the guidelines on human genome editing is a process that will take about 18 months to complete, noting that it is a difficult, but urgent task that must be carried out in a thoughtful, comprehensive manner.

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