This news piece in Nature reflects on recent developments in embryo research to point to the gap between the pace of scientific research and the abilities of regulatory institutions to keep up with new developments. It draws on the He Jiankui affair and the International Summits on Human Genome Editing as other examples of this problem. The author argues that the ideal solution is an agile regulatory process that can quickly respond to new developments while also being receptive to input from experts and non-experts alike.
This is one of two articles published on the same day in the Guardian that suggests an emerging strategy to modify the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Based on notable contributions from Robin Lovell-Badge, a leading figure in global discussions about the future of genome editing, this article discusses expected impending recommendations from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to update the 1990 Act.
This is one of two articles published on the same day in the Guardian that suggests an emerging strategy to modify the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. This article identifies recent developments in life science research—specifically, genome editing, synthetic embryos, mitochondrial transfer, and lab-grown gametes—and suggests that revisions to the 1990 Act would need to account for progress in these areas. The article argues that scientific progress in each of these domains necessitates “future-proofing” legislation so that these technologies can be translated into the clinic.
Nobel laureate CRISPR-developer Jennifer Doudna discusses two primary ethical concerns surrounding the technology’s use: the need for internationally recognized regulations and the need to ensure that CRISPR-derived treatments are accessible worldwide. Despite the headline, in this brief interview, Doudna provides little perspective on how the latter might happen aside from addressing it at the level of “technical and scientific issues.” She displays a faith in widespread access to genome editing technologies as a public good that would be echoed at the Third International Summit in 2023.
This news item from Nature describes a new ethics statement from the State Council of China. Bioethicists read this statement as a response to the He Jiankui affair and his recent release from prison following a three-year sentence. The statement is the first publicized product of the National Science and Technology Ethics Committee that was established in the wake of the revelation of He’s experiments. It seeks to address the ambiguous nature of the regulatory environment in which He conducted his experiments.
Sharon Begley chronicles the calls for a moratorium on heritable human genome editing from prominennt members of the scientific community. Begley also notes the absence of notable figures in genome editing, including Jennifer Doudna. In an interview, Doudna said she prefers “’strict regulation that precludes use’” rather than a moratorium, which does not provide a clear pathway to “’possible responsible use.’” Begley dives into this ambiguity around the word moratorium and some scientists’ strong reactions against the word.
Jon Cohen, writing for Science, describes the divisiveness of Lander et al.’s call for a moratorium within the biological research community. While many threw their support behind the call, Nobel Laureate and Asilomar organizer David Baltimore was a notable exception.
In Nature Biotechnology, Vivien Marx provides a reminder that the children that resulted from He Jiankui’s CRISPR experiments—the twins “Lulu” and “Nana” and a third, younger child, here called “Amy”—are now toddlers. She uses this reminder as an opportunity to discuss the outlook of their lives as the first gene-edited humans, soliciting the advice of scientific experts.
Science writer Sara Reardon discusses the announcement from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) that it would be instituting a forced moratorium on gain-of-function research on influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses. Reardon notes the mixed reception within the scientific community, with some praising the decision as an opportunity for deliberation of the research’s risks and others characterizing the decision as an overreaction.
Writing in Nature, science writer Elizabeth Svoboda describes the recent technological developments that have potential to provide new knowledge about the early stages of human development and lead to the production of a new range of therapeutic interventions. These developments test the limits of embryo research by extending its feasibility and producing a new range of “near-human embryonic structures” (2021:S16) that become objects of uncertain standing.
A brief Nature news item documents the adoption of a voluntary five-year moratorium on human cloning by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). The moratorium made a point of distinguishing human cloning intended for implantation from human cloning for research in vitro prohibiting the former while permitting the latter. Some scientists argued that this move was intended to assuage public concerns about human cloning and preempt legislative bans that could affect in vitro research, claims that FASEB officials denied.