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The World Health Organization Says No More Gene-Edited Babies



The World's Largest public health authority has weighed in with the most authoritative statement on the use of Crispr to date the DNA of human babies. Eight months after a rogue Chinese scientist has secretly created the world's first genetically-edited children, the World Health Organization is asking to stop making any experiments that would lead to the birth of more gene-modified humans.

While stopping short of the all-out moratorium He Jiankui revealed his controversial work in November, the WHO's position is a strong rebuke of He's work.

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"I commend the WHO for taking a stance on what I think this is the right side of the issue, "says Fyodor Urnov, a gene-editing scientist at the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences in Seattle and the University of California, Berkeley. (In 201

5, Urnov coauthored a perspective in Nature titled Do not Edit the Human Germline .) He believes the technology is not just prematurely but medically unnecessary. "So the more firm stance we have across health authorities the better. And this is as clear as a stance as one could possibly take. Banned in the US, because of the US Food and Drug Administration from even reviewing clinical trial applications involving genetically modified human embryos. But in Russia, at least one scientist has started to make cramping tests in IVF clinics to prevent inherited deafness. And because of Crispr components, unlike enriched plutonium, it may be difficult to get over the internet for research purposes, there's little WHO can do to curb unscrupulous scientists from conscripting IVF physicians into creating underground embryo-editing clinics.

"While it does not necessarily."

Megan Molteni covers DNA technologies, medicine, and genetic privacy for WIRED.

"While it does not necessarily "Carrying the weight of law, the WHO has some interesting powers," says Carolyn Brokowski, a research associate and bioethicist at Yale Medical School, who has studied the more than 60 ethics reports and statements issued by the international community on human germline editing since 2015 Given the uncertainty at this time, it would be unfortunate for any country or institution to do anything that contraindicated by the WHO. Overall, I expect it to be a damper on the move with this technology. "

WHO's 18-member expert advisory committee on human genome editing, which was formed in December. The committee delivered this report at Geneva in March, along with a suggestion that the WHO. Currently, more than 20 clinical trials in the so-called somatic cells (things like white blood cells and bone marrow cells, rather than sperm or eggs). Just this week, two gene-editing companies in the US have announced they were beginning to enroll and treat patients for the first time. Editas Medicine has been diagnosed as having problems with injecting drugs. And as NPR reported Monday, Crispr Therapeutics and Vertex have begun to infuse billions of Crispr-edited cells into Nashville sickle cell patients.

Members of the WHO's advisory committee could not be reached for comment. In a March interview at Science committee cochair Margaret Hamburg offered few details about the proposed registry, but it should include both somatic cell trials and germline experiments when the time is right. She feels that the committee has a "broader charge" rather than simply declaring a moratorium. It plans to follow the technology in people. 15 to 18 months.

The crafting of such specifics would help fill a void. Previous reports by the National Academies of Science and Human Medicine have not been described as "irresponsible" unless the procedure has proven safe and effective. But it did not spell out how exactly one might measure those things. It also did not endorse a moratorium. And that allowed scientists like He to form his own judgment about what is required to proceed. In fact, he even quoted the 2017 US Academies' report in concluding that the children were genuinely permissible in his assurances to hospital ethics reviewers.

Scientists like Urnov and Crispr cocreator Jennifer Doudna too complacent and naive. But they hope that the WHO statement puts any ambiguity to rest. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no such thing as a human being in the clinic at this time guidelines, "says Doudna, a biochemist at UC Berkeley. The hope, she says, will not rush to outlaw it, which could be undoubtedly down the road. Rather, they can help enforce compliance with the WHO. "Unlike a moratorium it invites conversation, and that's really critical right now because there's no doubt in my mind that the interest in human germline editing is not going away."


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