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Gene Editing Summit Committee Statement Offers Support for Basic Research, Continued Discussion

Washington, DC (GenomeWeb) — The organizing committee of the International Summit on Human Gene Editing today released a statement summarizing its conclusions following three days of discussions here about the technical, ethical, legal, and social implications of genome editing technology.

The statement voiced support for existing regulations to monitor basic and preclinical research as well as clinical use of genome editing in somatic cells. It suggested that proceeding with germline genome editing for clinical purposes at this time would be "irresponsible" but that the issue should be revisited.

The committee also suggested creating an international forum to further discussion, welcoming comment from "biomedical scientists, social scientists, ethicists, healthcare providers, patients and their families, people with disabilities, policymakers, regulators, research funders, faith leaders, public interest advocates, industry representatives, and members of the general public."

Notably, the statement gave a favorable view towards using genome editing in germline cells for basic research. "If, in the process of research, early human embryos or germline cells undergo gene editing, the modified cells should not be used to establish a pregnancy," the committee wrote.

Regarding clinical applications, the committee made a clear distinction between editing in somatic and germline cells. Somatic cell genome editing could be adequately covered by existing regulatory frameworks, since "proposed clinical uses are intended to affect only the individual who receives them."

However, it argued against germline genome editing. "The safety issues have not yet been adequately explored; the cases of most compelling benefit are limited; and many nations have legislative or regulatory bans on germline modification," the committee wrote.

While reading the statement before the summit's attendees at the National Academy of Sciences, David Baltimore, chair of the organizing committee, added artists to the list of participants the committee wished to see join in the forum for discussion. Artists, faith leaders, and people with disabilities were among the groups that were not well represented among the summit's speakers whose absence was highlighted in comment sessions.

The committee did not provide any specific recommendations on what form future discussions would take. "The process isn't worked out but the commitment is," Pilar Ossorio, a committee member and law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said of the proposed forum.

A multidisciplinary committee commissioned by the US National Academies of Sciences,  and Medicine this week began a consensus study, and expects to publish an official report with recommendations by the end of 2016.