The Academy is contributing to ongoing discussion of the developing field of genome editing.Ongoing
Genome editing techniques allow stretches of DNA from a genome to be precisely replaced or removed. The concept of genome editing is not new and there are a number of available genome editing technologies, including transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) and zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs).
The application of genome editing tools is already having a beneficial impact in a research context by progressing our understanding of the role of specific genes, and how they may be involved in disease.
However, the most recent genome editing tool, CRISPR/Cas9, is more efficient, accurate, affordable, and quicker to use than other genome editing techniques. As a result, editing genome sequences has become more straightforward in recent years. The potential exists to use genome editing technologies to correct or prevent disease arising from genetic mutations, although the science behind such clinical applications of genome editing is still in its infancy.
The Academy is monitoring this area and seeking opportunities to contribute to the debate. We published an initial statement in September 2015 and responded to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' consultation on genome editing in February 2016. In June 2017, we also responded to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' consultation on genome editing and human reproduction. We also responded to the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry on genomics and genome editing in January 2017. All our submissions can be downloaded from the right hand side of this page.
The Academy believes that basic research, provided it is performed within existing ethical and regulatory frameworks, should be allowed to continue to help progress our understanding of health and disease. The potential of genome editing technologies to be used within a clinical context should also be explored, but we recognise that there are ethical and scientific questions that remain unanswered. We therefore support the need for ongoing discussion around these technologies.
Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, also commented on the HFEA's recent decision to permit UK scientists to edit the genomes of human embryos.
In September 2015, the Academy issued an initial joint statement with other UK research organisations in support of the continued use of genome editing techniques in basic and preclinical research.
The Academy, together with all signatories, remains committed to supporting further discussion around genome editing technologies and their application.
The statement can be downloaded from the right of this page, and more information is available from our news story.
In February 2016, the Academy responded to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics call for written evidence on genome editing. Their project is exploring the impact of genome editing in research and ultimately will develop practical ethical guidance for specific field(s) of application. Our submission drew on the expertise of our Fellowship, and focused on genome editing in the context of biomedical research and human applications.
We welcomed the opportunity to respond to this timely call for evidence, and will continue to engage in wider discussions about genome editing. We are planning to engage with future stages of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics project where appropriate.
Our full response can be downloaded from the right of this page.
On Thursday 28 April 2016, the Academy, together with the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) and the French National Academy of Medicine, jointly held a one-day workshop titled 'Human genome editing in the EU' at the French Academy of Medicine in Paris, France.
The workshop provided an opportunity to facilitate international discussions, and explore the scientific and regulatory landscape for human genome editing across the EU.
For more information on this event, including an agenda, please visit our dedicated events page.
A background document was developed for this meeting which reviews the current state of the regulations and ongoing debates in the EU with respect to human genome editing. This document, titled 'The European landscape for human genome editing', can be downloaded from the right of this page.
The report of the workshop is now available and can also be downloaded from the right of this page.
In January 2017, the Academy submitted evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's inquiry into genomics and genome-editing. Our response can be downloaded from the right-hand side of this page.
Senior Policy Officer
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