He Jiankui, the researcher behind the birth revealed last November of the first genetically modified babies, was quickly condemned by the international scientific community. But this sentence was not shared universally: as early as December, some fertility clinics contacted the Chinese researcher to offer their patients “CRISPR babies”. These revelations, made this week by Dr William Hurlbut of Stanford University, demonstrate “the real risk of commercializing” this process.
Since November, the World Health Organization and several national scientific academies have started attempting to regulate the use of CRISPR for human genome editing (see Genetically modified babies: WHO launches ethics committee). Following the initiative of two international summits on this topic, the American Academies of Science and Medicine, as well as the British Royal Society, announced last week the creation of a commission comprising representatives from 10 countries. Its role is “to identify the technical problems that must be assessed before any clinical application of germline genome editing,” and “to evaluate potential mechanisms for long-term monitoring of children born with a modified genome”. It is expected to publish a report in spring 2020.
This committee will operate alongside another one established by the WHO in March, which “called for the creation of a central registry of research on human genome editing to order to create an open and transparent database of ongoing work” (see The WHO is to create an international registry of genome-editing research).
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