Day 2 of the Human Gene Editing Summit in DC was quite interesting and added more depth to the meeting overall. For specific talks, see my two posts from yesterday here and here. Also see my top takeaways from Day 1.
What were the top highlights of Day 2?
Somatic work. We shouldn’t only focus on germline human genetic modifications even if that is the most explosive issue. Yesterday we heard about striking developments in the arena of somatic/adult gene editing efforts. I thought Antonio Regalado’s tweet on one of the talks was striking (below). The key question–will the FDA keep up? I have my doubts.
"We could develop a gene editing treatment treatment in a month" will FDA keep up? –CRISPR Therapeutics at #geneeditsummit
— Antonio Regalado (@antonioregalado) December 2, 2015
Not all harmony on concept of International Harmony. Confession: I came into this meeting thinking that with only a few exceptions a shared goal would be an international consensus on human heritable genetic modification. Today we heard from some folks who are not necessarily fans of the idea of international harmonization on human gene editing. For instance, legal scholar Barbara Evans indicated that international diversity rather than harmonization might be preferable and have benefits.
Very diverse international views. There was a whole series of talks from scientists from around the world. The perspectives on human genetic modifications varied substantially. This gave the feeling that international harmonization (global consensus) could prove very challenging. At the same time, it still seems to me that there’s some momentum for a consensus moratorium on clinical use of heritable gene editing, but I feel less sure than before. Compounding that uncertainty is the results so far from an Internet poll I’m doing on a possible moratorium. The results at present show a complete split.
Getting engaged with public engagement. How well doesn’t public engagement really work and is it achievable on human genetic modification? Jennifer Merchant gave a thought-provoking talk on this issue. Impactful public engagement on science more generally is a huge challenge. She cited examples in France and the UK, with the latter being focused on mitochondrial transfer/3-person IVF. In both cases efforts were made for public involvement, but the outcomes were mixed and, for instance, the UK effort garnered both positives and criticisms. The UK policy didn’t, she mentioned, necessarily link up with the public comments.
A few weeks back I started a poll focusing on whether people would have a designer baby if they could.
With nearly 200 responses so far, the results are very mixed (see image).
One conclusion from this I think is that we need more information on possible risks versus benefits. Another element here is that the poll, as one commenter pointed out, did not divide between health-related and enhancement motivations behind having the designer baby. I may do a future poll including that divide.
Looking at the votes geographically, interestingly respondents in the UK were shifted more toward “Yes” than other countries such as the US.
A reminder that Internet polls are non-scientific.