The Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, held in Hong Kong last month, was rocked by the revelation from a researcher from Shenzhen that twins were born whose healthy embryonic genomes had been edited to confer resistance to HIV. Despite widespread condemnation by the summit organizing committee, world scientific academies, and prominent scientific leaders that such research was “deeply disturbing” and “irresponsible,” and the launch of an investigation in China into the researcher’s actions, it is apparent that the ability to use CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the human genome has outpaced nascent efforts by the scientific and medical communities to confront the complex ethical and governance issues that they raise. The current guidelines and principles on human germline genome editing are based on sound scientific and ethical principles. However, this case highlights the urgent need to accelerate efforts to reach international agreement upon more specific criteria and standards that have to be met before human germline editing would be deemed permissible.
“We need…broad agreement on…criteria for human germline genome editing research…”
Together, we call upon international academies to quickly convene international experts and stakeholders to produce an expedited report that will inform the development of these criteria and standards to which all genome editing in human embryos for reproductive purposes must conform, and to engage scientific bodies around the world in this effort. The United States National Academies are willing to lead in this endeavor. Academies are well-positioned to convene needed international expertise and to help foster broad scientific consensus on the responsible pursuit of human genome editing research and clinical applications. We strongly believe that international consensus on such standards is important to avoid the potential for researchers to rationalize the justification or seek out convenient locales for conducting dangerous and unethical experimentation. The establishment of international scientific standards is not intended to substitute for national regulation but could inform such regulation.