The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1.
As I said in a BreakPoint commentary last month, gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR and what’s being called “Prime Editing” are “existential threats.” We have no idea what our attempts to play god with the human genome will unleash on humanity. Yet, we insist on charging ahead despite our imperfect knowledge with an unbounded confidence in our abilities.
Coming from a concerned non-scientist like me, these concerns can be easily dismissed as alarmist, but what if the concern comes from the Director of the National Institutes of Health?
It turns out that Francis Collins is also concerned. In a recent article in Discover Magazine entitled “We Must Never Allow Our Technology to Eclipse Our Humanity,” Collins called for a “moratorium of at least five years on heritable human gene editing.”
Heritable gene editing technologies, like “Prime Editing,” aim to edit genes that can be passed on to future generations, along with any unintended and dangerous mutations. This differs from “non-heritable gene editing,” which can be used to treat people with “life-threatening disorders, such as sickle cell disease, HIV infection, cancer and muscular dystrophy.”
Proponents of Prime Editing talk about the possibility of making “any kind of DNA change that anyone wants at just about any site in the human genome.” Thus, according to Collins, “scientists and leaders around the globe have an obligation to consider the appropriate use — if any — of heritable human gene editing. This involves scrutinizing the safety of such experiments, including the risk of unintended mutations, as well as a clear-eyed analysis of actual medical need.”
Anticipating some objections, the NIH Director added that “the current arguments — that the benefits outweigh the risks — are surprisingly uncompelling.”
Finally, Collins insisted that “We must weigh the profound social, ethical and moral issues associated with modifying the germline in ways that could change the human species forever.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera