Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Research Organizations Lay Out Guidance for Gene Drive Science

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The potential of gene drive technology to combat infectious disease outbreaks like Zika virus disease and malaria, and even to conserve sensitive ecosystems by eliminating invasive species, is being explored in the US and elsewhere.

But before gene drive technology can be widely deployed, research organizations and governments must agree to guiding principles for its use so that it is used ethically and responsibly, according to the authors of a bioethics column published yesterday in Science.

In 2016, the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released a report on gene drives, outlining recommendations aimed at researchers, funders, and governments on how they could use gene drives while also minimizing potential risks, averting preventable harm, and getting the public on their side, noted Claudia Emerson, of the Institute on Ethics and Policy for Innovation at McMaster University; Stephanie James, of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health; Katherine Littler, of the Wellcome Trust; and Filippo Randazzo, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A gene drive promotes the preferential inheritance of a gene or gene variant of interest and increases its prevalence in a given population. But it is different from genome editing, in that genetic changes induced by genome editing are not inherited. Gene drives sometimes appear in nature, and researchers have been studying how to use this natural occurrence to solve certain problems, the authors write. Now, they're also using CRISPR technology to speed the process.

"Sponsors of scientific research have a responsibility to support innovation that promotes and sustains the public good. They share the common goal of advancing knowledge and human well-being, while protecting and promoting societal values that underpin the responsible conduct of science," the authors wrote in their column. "As sponsors and supporters of gene drive research, the signatories to these principles have come together to provide a coordinated response to the NASEM recommendations in the form of commitment to a set of guiding principles intended to mobilize and facilitate progress in gene drive research by supporting efforts of the highest scientific and ethical quality; inspire a transparent atmosphere of conscientiousness, respectfulness, and integrity wherein the research can flourish; and support existing biosafety requirements and best practices as minimum standards for research."

The guiding principles the authors lay out include the advance of quality science to promote the public good; the promotion of stewardship, safety, and good governance; the demonstration of transparency and accountability; the thoughtful engagement with affected communities, stakeholders, and publics; and fostering opportunities to strengthen capacity and education.

To date, the authors noted, 13 organizations have endorsed these principles, and they've encouraged others to do the same. Moving forward, they will convene a forum of gene drive sponsors and supporters to discuss next steps in actually making the guidelines operational.

"Although there are many challenges to address, the forum will start with consideration of harmonized approaches to stakeholder engagement, regulatory oversight, transparency, and data sharing to support the research, knowledge sharing, and public discourse on gene drive technology," they added. "The forum is in a position to develop a 'consensus standard' designed to set an agreed level of good practice or quality to help establish confidence in gene drive innovations, and to continue working with stakeholders and relevant agencies to implement all of the principles."