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In Stanford Survey, Majority of Genetics Professionals Supports Human Gene Editing

The headline of this article has been updated to reflect that the survey respondents may not represent all genetics professionals.

ORLANDO, Florida (GenomeWeb) – A majority of genetics professionals from various countries supports both somatic and germline human gene editing, though attitudes differ depending on the application, according to the results of a new survey by Stanford University researchers presented here today at the American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting.

According to Kelly Ormond, who directs the Human Genetics and Genetic Counseling program at Stanford, the survey was emailed to more than 13,000 genetics professionals at 10 international organizations in January. Participants were asked about their views of research and possible clinical applications of both somatic and germline gene editing in humans.

About 500 individuals completed the survey, about 64 percent of them from North America and 14 percent from Europe. More than half the respondents were clinicians – 43 percent were genetic nurses and genetic counselors, and 13 percent physicians – and about 30 percent were research scientists. Also, about 60 percent of participants had been practicing for less than 10 years, and their mean age was 35 to 45 years. 

Overall, there was a very high level of support for somatic gene editing. Almost all respondents – 99.2 percent – said they are in favor of somatic gene editing for basic research, and 87.4 percent said they support it for clinical research on somatic human cells.

Regarding germline editing, 88.5 percent of survey participants said they support its use for basic research on non-viable human embryos, and 57.2 percent said they support it for basic research on existing viable human embryos. Only 31.9 percent said they are in favor of germline editing on viable human embryos for clinical research.

Just 13 percent of respondents said they support the use of somatic gene editing to enhance traits, such as appearance, physical ability, and cognitive ability, and only 8.6 percent said they support the use of germline gene editing for this. Trait enhancement was the only application of gene editing for which there was geographic differences between genetics professionals, Ormond said – respondents from Asia were more likely to support it.

Overall, there was higher support for gene editing to combat diseases with high penetrance, early onset, a large effect on lifespan, and that result in significant disability.

Among the survey respondents, those that were younger, had fewer years of experience, and identified as less religious were more likely to find germline genome editing acceptable.

Also, results suggest that views of research geneticists differed somewhat from those of clinical geneticists, though the analysis has not been completed yet.

Ormond said the survey results are in line with those of another survey on the same topic, published earlier this month in Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics by a group led by Kiran Musunuru at the University of Pennsylvania. Those researchers surveyed about 300 attendees at an annual scientific meeting of the American Heart Association in May, asking similar questions as the Stanford survey.