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Call for Gene Editing Oversight

In an editorial, the Japan Times calls for better oversight of human genome-editing research.

It notes that the Japanese government was spurred to convene an expert panel on the topic following Chinese researchers' announcement last year that they'd used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing approach to alter the beta-thalassemia-causing gene in non-viable embryos. Many researchers around the world called the work irresponsible and immoral. The Japanese government report concluded that basic gene-editing research in early-stage human embryos was OK, but that modified embryos should not be returned to the womb, according the Japan Times. It also encouraged researchers to consider whether animal embryos were a viable alternative for their studies and said the technique was not ready for clinical use, the Japan Times adds.

But that report and one from Japanese Society for Genome Editing — which came to similar conclusions — aren't enough, the paper says, as they only provided recommendations, and institutional ethics committees could allow more controversial human genome-editing research to go forward.

"The government and academic societies need to start working to develop binding guidelines or legal regulations that control human genome editing research by fully taking into consideration not only the ethical but also the social problems the technique can cause," the Japan Times says.