Scientists from the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) have called for a worldwide ban on the use of a gene editing technique that could alter human DNA across generations. They fear the technique, which is called Crispr-Cas9, may be used in unsafe or unethical ways.
The DNA altering technique, Crispr-Cas9, has been developed by researchers at the University of Berkeley. The genome-editing method is so scientifically simple, cheap and powerful that it is widely seen as a promising key to treating serious genetic diseases as well as AIDS and many cancers. It has already inspired the start of a new biotechnology industry.
However, eminent scientists believe that the technique could also be applied to enhance human genetic traits, which raised serious ethical concerns.
Nobel laureates, David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology, and Paul Berg of Stanford University and sixteen other medical experts have come together to issue a warning against the technique.
The group released a report, which stated: “Given the speed with which the genome engineering field is evolving, our group concluded that there is an urgent need for open discussion of the merits and risks of human genome modification by a broad cohort of scientists, clinicians, social scientists, the general public and relevant public entities and interest groups. We must ban attempts to create genetically altered humans before the technique is fully understood.”
Throughout the world, many countries have already banned any DNA editing which can be passed from one generation to the next. The United States has established regulations that would hold back such developments from being realized for years or decades. However, laws in some nations could allow for the creation of ‘designer babies’ in the near future, driving the authors to call for a moratorium on research from scientists.
“You could exert control over human heredity with this technique, and that is why we are raising the issue. Some countries have poor regulation or none at all. The proposed ban was designed to keep people from doing anything crazy,” added Baltimore.
The report calling the ban was published in the Science journal.