In a statement released yesterday, the International Society for Stem Cell Research called for a moratorium on attempts at clinical application of nuclear genome editing of the human germ line to enable more extensive scientific analysis of the potential risks of genome editing and broader public discussion of the societal and ethical implications.
Technologies used to introduce changes into the DNA sequence of cells have advanced rapidly, making genome editing increasingly simple. Genome editing is feasible, not just in the somatic cells of an adult organism, but also in early embryos, as well as the gametes (sperm and egg) that carry the inheritable, germline DNA. Research involving germline nuclear genome editing has been performed to date in many organisms, including mice and monkeys, and applications to human embryos are possible.
The ISSCR statement raises significant ethical, societal and safety considerations related to the application of nuclear genome editing to the human germ line in clinical practice. Current genome editing technologies carry risks of unintended genome damage, in addition to unknown consequences. Moreover, consensus is lacking on what, if any, therapeutic applications of germ line genome modification might be permissible.
The statement calls for a moratorium on attempts to apply nuclear genome editing of the human germ line in clinical practice, as scientists currently lack an adequate understanding of the safety and potential long term risks of germline genome modification. Moreover, the ISSCR asserts that a deeper and more rigorous deliberation on the ethical, legal and societal implications of any attempts at modifying the human germ line is essential if its clinical practice is ever to be sanctioned.
In calling for the above moratorium, the ISSCR is not taking a position on the clinical testing of mitochondrial replacement therapy, a form of germline modification that entails replacing the mitochondria (found outside the nucleus) in the eggs of women at risk of transmitting certain devastating diseases to their children.
International Society for Stem Cell Research