Illustration of a scientist editing a DNA strand

Establishing Standards for Gene Editing: Initial Steps from Private and Public Actors

By Phebe Hong

Nine months have passed since the startling news broke in November 2018 that Chinese researcher He Jiankui had used CRISPR/Cas9 to genetically modify the embryos of twin girls. The controversial news spurred the scientific and regulatory community into action. In late August 2019, two influential organizations — one from the private sector and one from the public sector — independently released statements announcing their efforts to establish standards for the nascent field of gene editing.

First, the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM), the advocacy organization representing cell and gene therapy companies, released its “Therapeutic Developers’ Statement of Principles,” offering an industry perspective on the use of gene editing technologies. Shortly thereafter, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced its plans to build a new registry and governance framework to track and regulate human gene editing trials. The statements symbolize an initial step by both private and public organizations to build consensus around responsible stewardship principles to prevent future scientific and ethical transgressions. It remains to be seen how such statements and plans will be implemented and how they will influence the field of genome editing research going forward.

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Consumer Genetics: To Test or Not to Test?

By Marnie Gelbart and Nadine Vincenten

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing has entered our world with a big splash and opened the flood gates of genetic information. For over a decade, we have been out talking with people from all walks of life and listening to their storiesWhether we are speaking with scientists or non-scientists, whear excitement, concerns, ambivalence  – sometimes all three at the same time  and not surprisingly, many many questions as people try to make sense of it all.   

Susan Domchek, executive director of the Basser Center for BRCA, recalls counseling a patient with a family history of breast, ovarian, and colon cancer. This patient had taken a DTC genetic test that looked at her BRCA genes, and the results led her to conclude that she was not at risk for the cancers that had burdened her family. However, the patient did not realize that the test only looked at 3 of the over 1,000 BRCA variants linked to an increased cancer risk. And because the test did not look at other genes implicated in cancer, the physician recognized that it may have underestimated her patient’s risk. What if the patient had seen a doctor who did not understand the limitations of the test? Might she have avoided taking potentially life-saving precautions?  Read More

How Might we Approach Discussions on the Implications of Using Genetic Data from a Human Rights or Social Justice Perspective?

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Jonathan Chernoguz

To complement the Petrie-Flom Center’s annual conference this year, Consuming Genetics, the Global Health and Rights Project at Petrie-Flom (GHRP) convened a small meeting of feminists, students, and other activists. On May 16, Harvard University’s Global Health Education and Learning Incubator , which co-sponsors GHRP, hosted the forum in conjunction with Marcy Darnovsky and Katie Hasson of Center for Genetics and Society (CGS).

Focusing on “Gene Editing, Ethics, Rights and Health Equity Issues,” and in particular the irrevocability of germline gene editing, the meeting began with Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of CGS asking, “How might we begin the discussion from [the perspective of] human rights, feminism, equity, and social justice, rather than from the science and biotechnology?”

This question echoed some of those posed during the Consuming Genetics conference, for example, by Jonathan Kahn in interrogating the equivocation of social diversity and empirical diversity in genomic research.  Read More

Regulation of Human Genome Editing in the Dawn of the CRISPR Era

By Scott J. Schweikart

With the advent of CRISPR and the first babies born with edited genomes, gene editing technology is now cheaper and more accurate than it has been. And there is now a verifiable occurrence of heritable genome modification using CRISPR.

As such, human genome editing is naturally (and quite rightly) receiving world-wide attention. Scientists, bioethicists, lawyers, and policy makers are questioning what is the best course of action in the face of this new technology that promises great medicinal benefits, but also poses great and unknown risks. Read More

Close up of a mosquito sucking blood on human skin. This mosquito is a carrier of Malaria, Encephalitis, Dengue and Zika virus.

Malaria Eradication: For Africa as America

There is a page in the history books waiting to be written for the eradication of malaria. In recent years, malaria has killed more people globally than war—it’s killed predominately children, and predominately in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite being curable, and eliminated from most developed countries, malaria is the fifth deadliest infectious disease in the world.

A team of scientists in Italy is looking to write that history. Read More

Abstract representation of DNA double helix

Gene Editing and Intellectual Property: A Useful Mix?

The Health Policy and Bioethics Consortia is a monthly series that convenes two international experts from different fields or vantage points to discuss how biomedical innovation and health care delivery are affected by various ethical norms, laws, and regulations.

They are organized by the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics and the Program on Regulation, Therapeutics, and Law (PORTAL) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in collaboration with the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. Support provided by the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund at Harvard University.

A light lunch will be provided. This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and registration is required. Please note that attendees will need to show ID in order to enter the venue. Register now!

 

One way of thinking about genome editing is through the lens of the legal and ethical obligations of ensuring the technology is deployed safely and accurately, for the betterment of human society.

Or, if that’s a mouthful for you, genome editing’s rights—and wrongs. Which brings me to a talk I’ll* be giving at Harvard Medical School on March 8: “Genome Editing: Rights and Wrongs” I feel obligated, however, to asterisk the personal pronoun (“I”) because, in truth, what I’ll be doing is sharing the stage with one the world’s most celebrated scientists, George Church, world-renowned bioethicist, Jeantine Lunshof, and moderated by health policy guru, Aaron Kesselheim. Read More

Science and ethics experts still reeling from #CRISPRbabies fallout

Watching David Baltimore open the #GeneEdit Summit last week brought back a memory of the last time I saw the Nobel laureate in such a role. The 2015 #GeneEditSummit concluded with a Q&A about the summit’s statement — which many considered was a moratorium on gene editing of embryos.

An audience member, with a sense of the promise of the science but concern for buy-in from a distrustful public, asked whether the statement might be translated into clearer language for those hard-pressed to understand CRISPR even with the acronym spelled out for them. To which Baltimore replied: “You mean it isn’t?”

That exchange convinced me that even gene editors need an editor. Especially gene editors. Indeed, if He Jiankui read that 2015 moratorium before he altered his own future in unintended ways, he did not see it as a red light.

In a tweet, director Francis Collins (@NIHdirector) clarified that the National Institutes of Health considers the light red: “The work of Dr. He Jiankui presented at #GeneEditSummit is profoundly disturbing & tramples on ethical norms. We need to develop binding international consensus on limits for this research. #NIH does not support the use of gene-editing in human embryos.”

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FDA scott gottlieb

How Scott Gottlieb is Wrong on the Gene Edited Baby Debacle

I am a huge fan of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

He is by far my favorite Trump appointee — though the competition isn’t tough, to be honest— and he is doing great things at FDA on issues such as mobile health, software, and so on.

But in his comments on the news that gene edited embryos in China had led to live births, I think he has it wrong.

“The response from the scientific community has been far too slow and far too tepid, and the credibility of the community to self-police has already been damaged,” he said to Biocentury. “Governments will now have to react, and that reaction may have to take consideration of the fact that the scientific community failed to convincingly assert, in this case, that certain conduct must simply be judged as over the line.” Read More