High-octane mix of buzz and worry: rumors flying on human embryo editing papers

Early human embryosWe’ve all heard the human embryo editing rumors.

Rumors are rumors and they may mean not a whole lot, but there definitely is a huge buzz on this right now both in a positive sense and with concern.

The excitement is over the power of this technology to do transformative things.

The worry is that these papers might easily cross a line or if they are not done incredibly rigorously with unquestionable transparency, institutional oversight and approval they could do far more harm than good.

Some in the press are going all-in with the rumors (see here and here).

What’s really going on?

The short answer is that it still remains pretty foggy at this point.

There are supposed to be anywhere from 1-4 papers out there in review at journals reporting CRISPR-Cas9-mediated gene editing of human germ cells and/or human embryos.

I’ve heard this from multiple sources including some very reliable ones. Again, it is out there in the press as well including in a quote from George Church on a paper from China. A few think that Luhan Yang, a postdoc from Church’s lab at Harvard, will be an author on one of the papers.

However, as of now it’s not clear where these papers are coming from (e.g. what labs) and what exactly they will report.

Mulitple folks besides Church say that at least one paper is coming from China. Probably two.

Others say there is at least one non-China paper, probably from an American lab. Additional voices mention more specifically a California or NY connection.

Someone else said all (two) the papers were rejected so far or reviewers asked for challenging, major revisions.

I’ve heard people say the gene editing will be a BRCA1 correction, while others say it will be a correction of the CFTR gene mutation associated with cystic fibrosis.

How are journals and editors handling these papers? Will they require some kind of special ethical or scientific review? Will they make the papers open access if they publish them? Could the papers indeed have been rejected and now remain in some kind of limbo?

Most are just throwing up their hands and saying, “heck if I know”. That’s probably the safest best at this point.

So, investigative readers, what do you think and/or know?

One thought on “High-octane mix of buzz and worry: rumors flying on human embryo editing papers

  1. Heck if I know! I’ve heard discussions that the only ethical uses of germ line gene editing would be in cases in which both parents are homozygous for a deleterious allele, which would rule out preimplantation genetic diagnosis and IVF as an option since there is no combination of parental chromosomes that would lead to a heterozygous disease-free child.

    It’s important to note that most recessive inherited diseases that are survivable…like cystic fibrosis…have many different mutations. So replacement sequences would need to be designed to target as many as 4 different mutations (if there are 2 different ones in each parent). This takes personalized medicine to a new level.

    These are interesting thought experiments. I would argue that thought experiments are all we should do for now.

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