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Genome Editing

The Academy is contributing to ongoing discussion of the developing field of genome editing.

Status: 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.

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