August 7, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Doudna & Others Testify Before Congress on CRISPR, Human Germline Editing

The House Subcommittee on Research and Technology on Tuesday held a hearing: “The Science and Ethics of Genetically Engineered Human DNA”.

Jennifer Doudna

At the meeting, CRISPR pioneer Dr. Jennifer Doudna gave testimony along with Dr. Victor Dzau who is the President of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Dr. Elizabeth McNally who is Professor at Northwestern, and Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, a Professor and bioethicist at Johns Hopkins. A screenshot of Doudna testifying is shown above.

Note that the NAS will be hosting a meeting on human germline modification later this year.

Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) provided a written statement noted both the great potential of genetic modification science more generally as well as potential ethical concerns. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) noted in his statement the importance for the US to provide scientific and moral leadership on this important, new area of biomedical science.

You can read Doudna’s prepared statement here and watch a video of the entire meeting above that I just posted on YouTube. I still haven’t had a chance to watch the whole thing myself as I’m in grant writing mode. All four people who were on the panel were very eloquent and I thought they did a fantastic job answering questions.

Doudna outlined three central roles for the US to play as CRISPR and human genome engineering technology advances: (1) provide expert information about risks and benefits, (2) lead an international consortium to draft guidelines, and (3) to educate the public about the benefits and risks of genome editing. I strongly support these roles.

Ethical issues were also discussed.

It was mentioned by Kahn in response to a question that a line that has never been crossed before is human germline editing. It was notable that the notion was mentioned a few times that at some future point it “may be considered unethical not to use this technology to edit the human germline”. The difficult issue of consent to human germline modification was also raised and it was asked, “how do we think about consent of someone who is not yet born?”

Another important issue is whether US politicians will decide to try to pass some kind of legislation on human germline editing that could include some kind of moratorium.

A key overall question discussed at the meeting is whether to have a temporary moratorium on human germline modification.

What do you think?

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