August 3, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Top Human Gene Editing takeaways from day 1 of #GeneEditSummit

IMG_4221The Summit on Human Gene Editing got off to a great start yesterday.

I have four posts summarizing all the talks and my impressions on the points made (here, here, hereand here).

What was the overall gestalt including from talking to people informally? What were the big takeaway messages so far from Day 1?

  1. Diverse views. There are widely variant views on human genetic modification amongst the speakers. These range from “hell no” to “yes, now” and everything in between. So far that diversity of views has been well represented at the meeting, which is a sign of a job well done on that level to the organizers.
  2. Continue basic research. Despite the variety of views, there is a broad consensus here for proceeding with basic research. There won’t be a proposal for a moratorium on basic human gene editing research.
  3. Probable moratorium on clinical use. It is very likely that the organizers will reach a consensus for at least a temporary moratorium on clinical applications of human gene editing. They plan to make an announcement tomorrow about their thinking.
  4. Why would there be a moratorium on use in humans? This predicted moratorium is at least in part based on numerous risks to moving forward with human genetic modification including eugenics, societal conflicts, potential for individual harm, and the sense that genetic changes including even those that are harmful would be largely irreversible. There is a need for more discussion and democratic deliberation too, which will take some time and additional meetings.
  5. Why do some oppose a moratorium? The strongest opinions (still in the minority I believe) against a moratorium seem to be based on three primary motivations: (1) addressing patient drive (the urgent need to take action on medical needs) and suffering, (2) philosophical views that gene editing is not so different than what occurs in nature and warrants some level of risk taking, and (3) scientific overexuberance/ambition. I definitely have respect for the first issue, but it must be balanced against serious risks. I support a clinical moratorium.
  6. CRISPR-Cas9 technology is rapidly advancing, almost on a daily basis. There is every reason to think that in a few years it will be dramatically better than it is today. This is great news. In my view, for this reason and many others, it would be very unwise to plunge ahead with clinical applications in humans. At some point improvements in CRISPR-Cas9 will plateau and give an expectation that it won’t be getting exponentially better. Starting down a clinical path any time soon would lead to a sense later of being stuck with already out-dated technology.