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Pause to Discuss

A temporary stop in research — such as the one recommended earlier this month by the International Summit on Human Gene Editing organizing committee — will give investigators and ethicists time to weigh both the benefits and the risks of germline genome editing, the New York Times editorial board writes.

Genome editing, particularly CRISPR/Cas9-based editing, has taken off so fast in the last few years that scientists and ethicists have been unable to keep up, the Times says. Indeed, the approach has been called the breakout technology of the year by the journal Science. In the spring, a team of Chinese researchers reported their use the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing approach to modify the gene behind beta-thalassemia in non-viable human zygotes, a report that generated substantial controversy and in part led to the summit.

The summit organizers gave the go-ahead for somatic genome editing, but were more wary of germline editing. While they did not call for an all-out ban, they did say more discussions of the technology were needed.

"The panel left a path for the technology to move forward once a vigorous program of basic research has resolved lingering questions," the Times editorial says. "That seems sensible given that many biomedical advances, like in vitro fertilization and stem cell research, raised concerns at the start but ultimately proved valuable and became widely accepted."