In response to growing concerns about the potential application of CRISPR-Cas9 technology, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine are convening an international summit this fall to “explore the scientific, ethical, and policy issues associated with human gene-editing research.”
If you think of a genome as a manuscript, full of extraneous, unnecessary, sometimes flat-out harmful material, the CRISPR-Cas9 technique can be likened to an incredibly useful editing tool, fast, cost-efficient, and simple. A snip here, a tuck there, some offensive gobbledygook removed entirely from way over there, and look at the masterpiece you’ve created.
In biological circles, the conversation is heated. Some see remarkable opportunities to prevent the kinds of genetic diseases that impact millions of people a year, things like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, hemophilia, and more. Others see yet another Pandora’s box that could lead to things like designer babies or the unintended genetic mutations that lead to unimaginable consequences.
In April of this year, scientists in China reported using the technique to alter the DNA of human embryos, an assumed first. While the embryos weren’t viable and couldn’t have developed into babies, the announcement is seen as the final push that led the NAS to call its summit.
“We are prepared to work with the scientific and medical communities to achieve a comprehensive understanding of human gene editing and its implications,” NAS President Ralph Cicerone and IOM President Victor Dzau said in a joint statement.