1 big thing ... A frightening new reality: Editing humans
The possibility that babies from genetically edited embryos may have been born in China has pushed the science into a frightening new stage, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly writes:
- It has become more real, even if scientists don't think it should be done in this way.
Why it matters: The scientific world is now talking more seriously about the implications of gene editing embryos than when it was just a prospect.
- National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins made it clear on Twitter that he wants to slow it down: "The need for development of binding international consensus on setting limits for this kind of research ... has never been more apparent. Without such limits, the world will face the serious risk of a deluge of similarly ill-considered and unethical projects."
The international reaction has been mostly outrage:
- He Jiankui, the scientist who claims he edited and implanted the embryos that resulted in a twin birth earlier this month, spoke earlier this week at a symposium in Hong Kong about how and why he decided to buck international guidelines from the U.S. and the U.K. on experimenting with editing embryos.
- He stirred even more dismay when he mentioned the possibility of a second pregnancy.
Between the lines: Not everyone viewed it as a 100% disaster. In fact, some scientists are ready to move ahead.
- Harvard Medical School's George Daley suggested at the conference in Hong Kong that it's time to reconsider the massive amounts of research that was done over the three years since the international guidance was created.
- "Just because the first steps into a new technology are missteps doesn't mean we shouldn't step back, restart and think about a plausible" method of moving forward, Daley said.
What they're saying: There are concerns about the safety and efficacy of editing genes in adults. And editing embryos raises an even bigger ethical concern: The genetic changes and all the unknowns around them can be passed down to future generations.
- Patrick David Hsu of the Salk Institute tells Axios: "This is bad, irresponsible science."
- Eric Topol of Scripps Research Translational Institute: "This was the fear — that someone, someday, would do something before it was ready. ... But, for the most part, there was international consensus that we were not ready."
What to watch: Scientists are cautious about predicting what the impact will be, in part because the details of this claim are thin.
- Jonathan Moreno of the University of Pennsylvania says the situation reminds him of other times in history where there were tremors in the science world, like the death of 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger in 1999 from a gene therapy trial that led to years of diminished research.
The bottom line: The alarm over what could be next is real. Moreno says this week's announcement could hinder current research projects, while Hsu says there's hope it may spur more needed transparency in research.
- Go deeper: The ethical red flags of genetically edited babies