Human gene-editing research, even on embryos, is needed and should go ahead, with one major caveat: No pregnancies can result, leaders of an international summit on the topic said December 3. Gene editing of human body, or somatic cells, which do not pass genetic information to future generations, is already in clinical trials. Most of those studies have involved older technologies and cells that were edited outside the body and then given to a patient later, such as a baby with leukemia treated with edited immune cells (SN: 12/12/15, p. 7). But moral, ethical and safety concerns would make it “irresponsible” to proceed with clinical studies in germline cells — eggs, sperm, embryos and other cells that transmit DNA to future generations, the statement added. That doesn’t mean all germ cell editing would be off-limits. Researchers who edit embryos or other germ cells in labs would not be doing germline editing if the resulting embryos are not implanted in the uterus for reproductive purposes, said committee chairman David Baltimore of Caltech.
The scientists purposely did not call their statement a ban or even a moratorium. Instead, the recommendations should be revisited on a regular basis as research advances and societal opinions evolve. The panel also called for an ongoing forum to discuss human germline editing.