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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Gene editing to correct genetic diseases isn't ready to be safely used in human eggs, sperm and embryos for pregnancies, according to a new report that lays out detailed criteria for determining when and how the technology could ultimately be used.

Why it matters: Scientists, ethicists and others have called for international rules — ranging from guidelines to regulations to moratoriums — for the editing of human genes that can be passed down to future generations.

Key takeaways: Human embryos that are used in a pregnancy shouldn't be edited before the technology can "efficiently and reliably make precise genomic changes without undesired changes," according to the report, written by 18 experts from 10 countries, including the U.S., China, the U.K. and India. (Off-target edits are a continued challenge for the field.)

  • Another technological advance is needed: the ability to reliably sequence the entire genome in a single cell to check for off-target effects, commission member Haoyi Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said during a press conference today.
  • "Extensive societal dialogue" about the social and ethical issues of embryo genome editing should occur before a country decides whether to permit it.
  • If the technology is one day deemed safe, effective and permissible, the group says its use should first be restricted to serious diseases that arise from mutations in a single gene — for example, sickle cell anemia and thalassemia — and then only when parents don't have other options for having a biologically related child who doesn't inherit the disorder.

Ultimately, countries will likely regulate the technology's use, and the report calls for national and international mechanisms for overseeing the use of human genome editing in clinical settings and for whistleblowers to report misconduct.

  • It also recommends forming an international panel of scientific advisers to review and make recommendations about proposed new applications of "heritable human genome editing."

What they're saying: Some researchers told Jon Cohen of Science the commission's criteria for editing human embryos are too narrow, while others said the guidelines reflect the limited medical justifications for using the technology.

Background: The International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing was set up by the UK's Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Medicine after a researcher in China claimed twin girls were born from embryos he changed with the gene-editing tool CRISPR in an attempt to make them immune to HIV infection.

What to watch: The World Health Organization is drawing up its guidelines for governing genome editing technology more broadly. The report released today is intended to inform those guidelines, which will also consider ethical and social challenges.

Go deeper

Updated 3 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.

1 hour ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.

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