CRISPR

World Health Organization calls for strong gene editing framework

Photo of the World Health Organization emblem
WHO headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Top global scientists declined to declare the moratorium on gene editing heritable genes in humans called for by some experts, but warned it would be "irresponsible" to allow this in clinical practice and recommended initial steps for a global regulatory framework under the World Health Organization.

Why it matters: The global scientific and ethical community continues to be divided on whether there should be a complete moratorium on editing germline, or heritable, cells for now. However there's a growing consensus that some global regulatory framework is needed to prevent a repeat of the ethically and medically questionable way a Chinese scientist edited and implanted embryos.

NIH and experts call for global moratorium on editing human embryos

Illustration of a DNA strand with the middle link having a no-go sign
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins and top science and ethics experts in the U.S. and 6 other countries today called for an international 5-year moratorium on editing human germlines, or the type of genes that are heritable.

Why it matters: Spurred by the recent discovery of twin babies born after being edited as embryos in China, scientists and ethicists have debated what steps should happen next — and these experts say a temporary moratorium is needed until it's no longer believed that "the risk of failing to make the desired change or of introducing unintended mutations (off-target effects) is still unacceptably high."