domingo, 15 de mayo de 2016

BioEdge: Paris conference investigates CRISPR potential

BioEdge: Paris conference investigates CRISPR potential

Paris conference investigates CRISPR potential

CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies hold great promise for treating disease. However, they also provoke significant ethical concerns, especially about germline modification and the consequences of altering the genetic heritage of future generations.

On April 28 and 29, two conferences were held in Paris, one organised by European scientists and the other by Americans. They were attended by the world’s leading figures in stem cell research and ethics for a discussion of regulation, governance, and ethical issues surrounding human gene-editing research.

Caroline Simons, an Irish lawyer, reported on the proceedings in a guest post on The Niche, the blog of Paul Knoepfler’s stem cell lab. It’s a very useful summary of the status quo.

1.  Germline gene editing technologies are not ready for clinical application in humans.

2.  No country has regulated specifically for these technologies, but some consider that their regulations would encompass, or at least not prohibit, somatic gene editing.

3.  Most countries prohibit germline gene editing.

4.  There is no support for the clinical application of germline gene editing, but there is consensus that basic research should continue.

5.  There is consensus that research and, when safety and efficacy concerns are satisfied, that clinical trials of somatic gene editing should continue.

6.  There is no common understanding of ‘enhancement’ and no consensus that editing to achieve it should be permitted, even in somatic cells.

7.  The UK is the only country to permit mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRT), which will result in germline alteration. Neither the US nor China consider it prudent to approve MRT technology at this time.

8.  There is no consensus on the status of the human embryo (or even on what is an embryo), no consensus that embryos may be created for research or that they ought be available for research beyond the fourteenth day.

9.  The scientific evidence presented in the session which considered potential applications for germline editing did not demonstrate any ‘high unmet medical need’ for germline editing at this time. In fact, Dr. Clevers couldn’t think of any situation where using CRISPR/Cas9 on an embryo would be feasible.

10.There is consensus that public discussion of gene editing technology is urgently needed and that ‘broad, informed consent’ from the public is necessary before any clinical application of gene editing in humans.
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The Global Priorities Project and the Future of Humanity Institute, both based at Oxford University, recently produced a Global Catastrophic Risk 2016 report. It’s less gripping than the Left Behind novels about the Second Coming of Christ (with titles like The Rapture: In the Twinkling of an Eye/Countdown to the Earth's Last Days), but, in its own dry, detached way, no less scary.
According to the Oxford experts’ calculations, extinction of the whole human race is reasonably likely.  Scientists have suggested that the risk is 0.1% per year, and perhaps as much as 0.2%. While this may not seem worthwhile worrying about, these figures actually imply, says the report, that “an individual would be more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event than a car crash”.
What sort of calamities are we talking about? Collision with an asteroid, the eruption of a super-volcano, extreme climate change, a bio-engineered pandemic, or even a super-intelligent computer declaring war on wetware humanity.
Tiny probabilities add up, so that the chance of extinction in the next century is 9.5% -- which is worth worrying about. And of course, a mere global catastrophe, involving the death of a tenth of the population, is far more likely. That is a very startling statistic.
However, even at Oxford they make mistakes. Within days of issuing the Global Catastrophic Risk 2016 report, the experts were eating humble pie. A mathematician reviewed its calculations and concluded that “the Future of Humanity Institute seems very confused re: the future of humanity”. The authors had to give more nuance and context to their most startling statistic. It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the ethics of existential risk. 

Michael Cook



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