Research in genome editing of human embryos is essential, group says

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A leading group of stem cell researchers, bioethicists, and experts on policy and scientific publishing have said that research in genome editing of human embryos is essential and that it should be permitted.

The bold statement was made by the Hinxton Group at the first global meetings to debate the controversial new techniques and according to the group the research is essential to gain basic understanding of the biology of early human embryos and germ cells.

The experts, while firmly backing the need for gene editing research, have also said that there has to be a clear distinction between research and clinical application and the latter should not be permitted at this stage

“We believe that while this technology has tremendous value to basic research and enormous potential for somatic clinical uses, it is not sufficiently developed to consider human genome editing for clinical reproductive purposes at this time”, the statement reads.

The group firmly backs the ethical concerns as well and agrees that “given all safety, efficacy and governance needs are met, there may be morally acceptable uses of this technology in human reproduction, though further substantial discussion and debate will be required”.

Robin Lovell-Badge, a member of the Hinxton Group steering committee and Group Leader, and head of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics, said that the current studies on early development of embryos are being carried out using mouse embryos, but because gene activity and even some cell types are very different in human embryos, gene editing research on human embryos is required and it could be used to ask how cell types are specified in the early embryo and the nature and importance of the genes involved.

“Understanding gained could lead to improvements in IVF and reduced implantation failure, using treatments that do not involve genome editing”, he adds.

The Group were able to make a number of recommendations, not only about the research, but also about regulation and governance, and the importance of continued discussions, in how far we should go and who could or should benefit.