Baltimore, et al. propose path forward for human germline engineering in Science

In a new perspectives piece in Science, Nobel Laureate David Baltimore and co-authors including Jennifer Doudna and George Church, chart a potential path forward for human genomic engineering involving germline modification. See also accompanying Bioethics piece by Gretchen Vogel as well, “Embryo engineering alarm”.

human germline editing policy

In the piece, entitled “A prudent path forward for genomic engineering and germline gene modification” calls for further discussion and assessment of key potential benefits and risks to moving forward with this technology. The illustration included here is from the piece.

The piece is reflective to a large extent of conclusions from a recent meeting held in Napa on this issue.

The summary statement is as follows:  “A framework for open discourse on the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology to manipulate the human genome is urgently needed.”

They make 4 more specific recommendations.

  1. Strongly discourage clinical application of this technology at this time.
  2. Create forums for education and discussion
  3. Encourage open research to evaluate the utility of CRISPR-Cas9 technology for both human and nonhuman model systems.
  4. Hold an international meeting to consider these issues and possibly make policy recommendation.

This statement seems mostly in synch with the recently released ISSCR statement, but perhaps not quite as strong as it does not call for a moratorium on clinical use as ISSCR does and instead “strongly discourages” such applications.

In addition, this piece by Baltimore, et al. conveys more of a sense of optimism and somewhat of a more relatively positive vision that eventually CRISPR-Cas9 human germline editing might have safe, effective and ethical clinical applications. Even so they are relatively cautious about that possibility:

“At present, the potential safety and efficacy issues arising from the use of this technology must be thoroughly investigated and understood before any at-tempts at human engineer-ing are sanctioned, if ever, for clinical testing.”

The full list of authors include David Baltimore, Paul Berg, Michael Botchan, Dana Carroll, R. Alta Charo, George Church, Jacob E. Corn, George Q. Daley, Jennifer A. Doudna, Marsha Fenner, Henry T. Greely, Martin Jinek, G. Steven Martin, Edward Penhoet, Jennifer Puck, Samuel H. Sternberg, Jonathan S. Weissman, and Keith R. Yamamoto.

One interesting thing to ponder is the potentially more diverse views amongst this list of scientists and bioethicists even though have come to a consensus clearly on key issues.

For example, in Vogel’s piece, Church is quoted with what might be viewed as somewhat of a dissent on at least one level:

“Those uncertainties, together with existing regulations, are sufficient to prevent responsible scientists from attempting any genetically altered babies, says George Church, a molecular geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Although he signed the Science commentary, he says the discussion “strikes me as a bit exaggerated.” He maintains that a de facto moratorium is in place for all technologies until they’re proven safe. “The challenge is to show that the benefits are greater than the risks.”

What are your thoughts on this new Science paper and the ISSCR statement, both out today?