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ACMG Issues Statement on Genome Editing in Embryos

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG) today issued a statement urging against clinical genome editing in human embryos until ethical concerns and technological limitations are addressed.

"Genome editing is an area of very rapid technological change, so what is not possible today could well become a reality in the very near future," the ACMG board of directors said, adding that the growing availability of technologies such as CRISPR has made the treatment of genetic disorders through genome manipulation increasingly feasible.

"In principle, this could be done in somatic cells to restore function at the tissue level or it could be done in the embryo, both to treat that individual and to remove the variant from the germline of that individual," the organization noted.

But work remains on several fronts, the board said. In addition to facing technological hurdles such as off-target effects, clinical genome editing must still also undergo stringent medical and genetic review to ensure its safety. Meanwhile, genome editing in a human embryo raises its own technical and ethical concerns including the possibility that editing a pathogenic variant will affect normal patterns of gene expression and whether it is appropriate to edit gene variants associated with non-disease traits.

"In light of these potentially serious and far-reaching concerns, the ACMG board of directors believes that genome editing in the human embryo is premature and should be subject to vigorous ethical debate and further refinement of technological issues," the group concluded. It also said it encourages "broad public debate regarding the clinical application of genomic editing and will appoint an ad hoc committee to recommend specific areas where it can contribute to this debate."

The statement appeared in Genetics in Medicine.

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