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NAS, IOM Announce Committee, Conference to Discuss Gene-Editing Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine today announced an initiative aimed at guiding decision making on new research involving human gene editing.

The organizations will host an international summit later this year to explore scientific, ethical, legal, and political issues associated with human gene-editing research. They will also announce an advisory group to lead the initiative and appoint a multidisciplinary committee to study the issues raised by human gene editing. The committee will deliberate on and create standards, guidelines, and practices to govern the use of gene-editing technologies in biomedical research and clinical practice.

"We are prepared to work with the scientific and medical communities to achieve a comprehensive understanding of human gene editing and its implications in order to help guide researchers, clinicians, policy makers, and the public, here and around the world," the organizations said in a statement.

In recent months, scientists and other experts have called for public discussion on the implications of human genome editing enabled by CRISPR/Cas9 and other technologies like transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) and zinc-finger nucleases.

In April, scientists from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China published a paper demonstrating the use of CRISPR/Cas9 in non-viable human zygotes, prompting widespread concern in both the scientific and popular press about human germline modification. Editorials in Nature and Science penned by scientists and other scholars in fields interested in gene editing have called for wide-ranging dialogue on the technologies between academia, industry, government and other interested communities.

Several commentators have suggested a gathering to address issues related to gene-editing research similar to the 1975 Asilomar conference, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, which brought together experts from a variety of fields to set guidelines for recombinant DNA research. The NAS mentioned the Asilomar conference as part of the organization's previous efforts to engage non-scientists to help contextualize controversial research topics and provide guidance to the scientific community.

A location and specific date for the summit were not disclosed, although the academies said it would take place in the fall of this year. Details about the forthcoming advisory group were not disclosed.