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Commission's First Meeting

At a meeting this week, researchers discussed the regulatory oversight needed for germline genome editing and whether such alterations could ever be called for, as GenomeWeb reports.

The International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing, whose formation was announced in May, held its first meeting this week in Washington, DC. The commission has been charged with developing a framework to evaluate the appropriate use of germline genome editing, with its creation coming on the heels of researcher He Jiankui announcing last November that he had edited the genomes of twin girls as embryos. Another researcher, Denis Rebrikov from the Kulakov National Medical Research Center for Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Perinatology and the Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University, has since also announced plans to perform germline genome editing.

While the commission has yet to come to any conclusions, Scientific American reports that many of those at the meeting favored a full moratorium on clinical germline gene editing. Carrie Wolinetz, acting chief of staff and associate director for science policy at the National Institutes of Health, notes that NIH is barred from funding any embryonic research and tells Scientific American that, even as someone whose child died from a rare genetic disease, she "personally would have trouble articulating that I have felt a truly compelling case for this technology moving forward."

It adds that others noted that such work could move forward under strict oversight, when there are no other options, and when the alteration would lead to a sequence common among the human population. GenomeWeb notes, though, that researchers also voiced concerns about off-target edits and other unknown consequences, including long-term effects, of gene editing.