Saturday, February 18, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Hugh Whitall, Nuffield Council on Bioethics, London, England
Background: This project by the UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics considered the impact of genome editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas on research across the life science and medical research landscape to understand if and to what extent it gives rise to novel ethical issues. We reviewed UK and international policies and provisions to make recommendations for priority topics to address in further research. Methods: We gathered evidence by conducting: a review of scientific research, legal provisions and ethical guidelines as well as academic and public ethical debate; a public call for evidence; and meetings with experts and stakeholders, including researchers, policy experts and faith groups. The findings were considered by a dedicated interdisciplinary working group. Results:The review showed that, given its technical advantages and rates of uptake, genome editing is already having an almost unprecedented impact in research. Genome editing is not only transforming how biological research is carried out, but also societal expectations and ambitions for addressing challenges such as disease prevention and food security. Among the potential applications, which seem almost unlimited, the combination of research advances, public concern and the level of complexity of the ethical questions involved suggest two priority areas for further inquiry. The first is the potential use of genome editing in human reproduction to avoid disease and for ‘enhancement’ purposes. Human reproductive applications have raised concerns about the risks of unintended effects due to off target DNA alterations, and the implications of making irreversible changes that will be passed on to future generations. The second is uses of genome editing to improve systems of animal husbandry and food production. Genome editing in animals raises questions about the appropriate ways to meet challenges of food security and animal welfare. Conclusions: Genome editing is a powerful set of techniques that holds many future possibilities with a potentially transformative impact across many areas of research and application. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics will further explore these possible future developments to address and anticipate public concern and enable a wide range of interested parties to input into responsible progress in the area.