An international summit on "gene editing" became confrontational as experts debated what to make of new technology and how it should be used on human eggs, sperm and embryos.
The International Summit on Human Gene Editing
in Washington, D.C., which opened on Tuesday, revealed a sharp split in views, reported Reuters
, with Hille Haker, chair of Catholic Moral Theology at Loyola University in Chicago, calling for a two-year international ban on research involving a gene editing tool.
Bioethics professor John Harris, of the University of Manchester in Britain, urged that the use of technology which could alter the DNA of unborn children move forward.
The scientific tool is question is the Cluster Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR, which Scientific American
reports "is faster, more reliable and cheaper than previous methods for modifying the base pairs of genes. CRISPR is made up of scissors in the form of an enzyme that cuts DNA strands and an RNA guide that knows where to make the cut, so the traits expressed by the gene are changed."
"Already, labs are applying gene editing in pluripotent stem cells," Scientific America's Jonathan D. Moreno said. "Older methods are being used to help the human immune system's T cells resist HIV, which might be done better with CRISPR. Gene editing trials are also in the offing for diseases like leukemia. It looks very much like these genies are out of the bottle."
Haker stressed that gene editing violates the freedom of unborn children, who cannot consent to changes to their own genetic code, said Reuters.
Harris countered, "We all have an inescapable moral duty: To continue with scientific investigation to the point at which we can make a rational choice. We are not yet at that point. It seems to me, consideration of a moratorium is the wrong course. Research is necessary."
University of Wisconsin law and bioethics professor Alta Charo said she favored a cautious approach to the CRISPR technology, reported the Washington Post
. She argued for taking advantage of the innovation but only with "responsible oversight."
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