Live Blog #GeneEditSummit Day 1 Post 1: Context & Science

This is blog post #1 from Day 1 of the National Academy of Sciences meeting on Human Gene editing. Some of the post may be written on the fly given the quick timeline of the meeting. Updates will sometimes be added to existing posts. See the subsequent three posts on the rest of the day here, here, and here.#GeneEditSummit

Here is the agenda for each of the three days including today.

The meeting was kicked off with an introduction by David Baltimore and words from Congressman Bill Foster (it seems the only Ph.D. scientist in Congress) and John P. Holdren, The Obama Administration’s top scientist.

Foster nicely outlined potential risks and benefits of human genetic modification. He emphasized that the first side of CRISPR presented to public is the positive side. He said that we don’t want to jeopardize the science. He went on that a moratorium, should there be one, should not be an absolute ban. There’s great potential, he ended, with human genetic modification technology, but we should not blindly forge ahead.

John Holdren spoke next. He emphasized that the position of the Obama Administration continues to be that altering the human genome for clinical purposes should not be crossed at this time. He noted this fits with the NIH policy and the comments of Francis Collins. He emphasized the differences between somatic and germline modifications. A more cautionary tone than that of Rep. Foster.

Dr. Zhihong Xu said that the Chinese Academy of Sciences encourages our scientists to take responsible approaches to human gene editing.

David Baltimore gives more historical perspective. “Today we sense we are close to being able to alter human heredity.” He cites Brave New World in discussion of human gene editing & we should take its warning to heart. “Human editing is something that all people should pay attention too. This is not fear mongering.” The Organizing Committee will suggest a path forward on the last day via a statement.

Ismail Serageldin– Not everything that is tech feasible is ethically wise, but tech has often historically been positive. He says, reflect on our dark past of eugenics & racism. He also cites Brave New World as did David Baltimore.

Daniel J. Kevles, New York University, spoke next. Daniel J. Kevles, He starts out with context of “shadow of eugenics”. Grave tone. He outlined the disturbing US eugenics movement of the early 20th century. Issues to keep in mind: economics (health care), racial stereotyping, overconfidence in gene function, and consumer demand.

Alta Charo, University of Wisconsin, Madison was up next in this session. Approaches to new technology range from promotional to restrictive on the other extreme. In the middle is self-regulation. She invoked the gene therapy Gelsinger case. One big failure could be a setback for entire field here too.

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