A specialized panel of experts and scientists from the United States has published a report that shows a softer position of the medical community concerning the controversial human gene-editing procedure. The science advisory group was composed by both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.
The report presented this Tuesday showed the panel’s light support to one method that has been widely criticized over the years as the experts think that the all the clinical efforts oriented to the engineering of certain genes that produce inheritable diseases could actually help people’s health.
However, this report does not approve the procedure entirely as the community is worried and even warns about all the negative consequences this could mean to the whole humankind. Authors of the study have explained how this procedure was not taken into consideration as there was not any evidence of the method being actually useful until recently published studies.
“Previously, it was easy for people to say, ‘This isn’t possible, so we don’t have to think about it much,” said Richard Hynes, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was one of the leaders of the committee that wrote the new report. “Now we can see a path whereby we might be able to do it, so we have to think about how to make sure it’s used only for the right things and not for the wrong things.”
Hynes also stated that, as the process has achieved several noteworthy milestones, it is an obligation for the scientific community to examine the case again and determine how this could help the world.
Pros and Cons of the method: Controversial engineering
According to the report presented by the panel, this group of experts supports the genetic alteration of human eggs, sperm, and embryos with the particular objective of avoiding a hereditary disease in a baby. These genes that produce the specific genetic conditions can only be altered when there is no other “reasonable alternative,” and when the scientific investigations regarding what this alteration could mean to future generations have been initiated.
Also in the report, it is established how this procedure can only begin when there is absolute safety for the patient to undergo it. This security issue could be solved shortly, as recent studies have shown how this procedure might no be harmful. In this scenario, where all the criteria and conditions are safe, and there is confidence on the method not being harmful, the gene-editing technique could be used to fight multiple rare and dangerous diseases.
Hynes stated when releasing the report that they are not prohibiting germline modifications. However, after long “discussions and debate,” they came to the conclusion that this procedure must be conducted only to fix diseases and no more.
The scientific community has spent years discussing all the ethical issues this method represents to humankind. Many experts are worried about this technique being used for other objectives that must not be accepted by anyone like it could be the enhancing of a person’s intelligence or the improvement of the physical abilities.
Also, another big concern for the health community is the fact that many gene-editing therapies that help in the treatment of several diseases can also be used for cosmetic or competitive purposes. For example, there is a kind of gene therapy that could help in the muscular dystrophy problem as it can also be applied to augment the muscular mass of a person.
Report’s recommendations and other expert’s opinions
One of the things that the panel of experts left very clear is that they are against of the use of the gene-editing therapy for cosmetic purposes of any kind, as they firmly state that this discussion must be public and should address everybody’s opinion.
In this issue, the report published a body of criteria that must be met in order to advance in this field. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, explained that this hypothetical genetic intervention must only replace a particular disease-causing gene for another one that is already common in the human species.
Also among the recommendations, there is the necessary research that must assure that every therapy that could be conducted does not represent any danger to the patient.
Automatically after the release of the report, there was a body of critics made by the Center for Genetics and Society, a non-profit California-based organization that conducts investigations on the matter.
“This report is a dramatic departure from the widespread global agreement that human germline modification should remain off limits,” said Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the center. “It acknowledges many of the widely recognized risks, including stigmatizing people with disabilities, exacerbating existing inequalities, and introducing new eugenic abuses. Strangely, there’s no apparent connection between those dire risks and the recommendation to move ahead.”
The common concern for everybody in the scientific community is that this method could be used for bad purposes. However, as more investigations are made, and further security policies are applied, the conduction of this procedure might introduce humankind to a new way of treatment for inheritable diseases.
Source: The Washington Post