October 26, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

GOP Congress seeks ban on CRISPR of human embryos

crispr nihGOP members of Congress want a ban on CRISPR of human embryos. They are moving to block genetic modification of human embryos using the new CRISPR gene editing technology.

The new proposed spending bill part way through the approval process with the nugget of good news of a possible NIH spending boost after many years of losing ground against inflation, reportedly also contains language to block gene editing of apparently any human embryos even just for research. Update: More recent interpretations of the bill including by Hank Greely (quoted in media and in his comment on this post)  read things such that human embryo research in the lab using CRISPR would be permitted. Material in this post has been edited to reflect this additional new context.

The funding for the coming year for biomedical research thus would be restricted such that none of it could be used, “in research in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include a heritable genetic modification.”

Bioethicist Art Caplan was quoted in a Business Insider piece that this ban is a bad idea since it would drive the research into strictly privately funded research labs…perhaps with less transparency.

I support continued research including in some limited cases using CRISPR in human embryos with appropriate ethical and institutional oversight and training for the researchers involved. You can see more on my views in my TED talk (also pasted above) and in my new book on human genetic modification.

Politico, reporting on the same development made it sound like the provision might be more specific just to the clinical sphere:

“the spending bill also blocks gene editing — denying the FDA any funds to review or approve clinical research in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include a heritable genetic modification.”.

To be clear, I do support a moratorium on genetic modification of embryos, but only specifically when there is the intent to use them in a clinical setting to create genetically modified people. The Washington DC summit at the National Academy of Sciences two weeks ago (#GeneEditSummit) discouraged heritable clinic applications of CRISPR in humans, but did not go so far as to propose a moratorium.

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