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Gene-edited babies: Current techniques not safe, say experts

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Current scientific techniques are not yet safe or effective enough to be used to create gene-edited babies, an international committee says.

The technology could one day prevent parents from passing on heritable diseases to children, but the committee says much more research is needed.

The world's first gene-edited babies were born in China in November 2018. The scientist responsible was jailed, amid a fierce global backlash. The committee was set up in response.

Gene-editing could potentially help avoid a range of heritable diseases by deleting or changing troublesome coding in embryos. But experts worry that modifying the genome of an embryo could cause unintended harm, not only to the individual but also future generations that inherit these same changes.

It made several recommendations, including:

  • Extensive conversations in society before a country decides whether to permit this type of gene-editing.
  • If proven to be safe and effective, initial uses should be limited to serious, life-shortening diseases which result from the mutation of one or both copies of a single gene, such as cystic fibrosis.
  • Rigorous checks at every stage of the process to make sure there are no unintended consequences, including biopsies and regular screening of embryos.
  • Pregnancies and any resulting children to be followed up closely.
  • An international scientific advisory panel should be established to constantly assess evidence on safety and effectiveness, allowing people to report concerns about any research that deviates from guidelines.

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Source: BBC News, 4 September 2020

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