14 July 2021

New recommendations on human genome editing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released two new companion reports that provide the first global recommendations for using human genome editing as a tool for public health.

Currently, countries can choose their own laws and regulations about human genome-editing, and these reports aim to give guidance to these policies. Human Genome Editing: a framework for governance and Human Genome Editing: recommendations emphasise safety, effectiveness and ethics.

The reports followed a global consultation on the use of genome editing techniques in humans, and included a diverse participant pool of scientists, researchers, patients, and indigenous peoples. The full consultation took two years to complete.

The benefits of human genome editing are vast; they may provide treatments for genetic disease, and have great potential in cancer treatment.

However, there are also risks, as the introduced mutations can sometimes be inherited by offspring or have off-target mutations that may be harmful. There is also concern that embryos cannot consent to editing.

The ability to edit the DNA in human somatic (like skin or liver) and germline (such as egg and sperm) cells is relatively new, and the first International Summit on Human Gene Editing took place in 2015 following the release of a research paper about the editing by CRISPR of a human embryo.

But the issue was entered the spotlight again in 2018 when He Jiankui controversially announced that two babies had been born following editing with CRISPR – the first humans to be born following such genome editing.

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