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Responsible Use

Germline gene editing ought to be used responsibly, argues Christopher Gyngell, a bioethicist at the University of Oxford, in the Guardian.

While the recent publication from Sun Yat-sen University researchers describing using the CRISPR/Cas9 method to edit non-viable human zygotes has drawn criticism — the US National Institutes of Health has reiterated that it won't fund any germline genome editing efforts — Gyngell says that it also represents a novel way to fight disease. Nearly 8 million children are born each year, he says, with birth defects that have a genetic cause. "If we could safely and easily correct these errors at the embryonic stage it would be possible to virtually eradicate this disease burden," he says.

Though current techniques are imprecise and shouldn't be used on viable embryos, the methods should be further developed and refined, Gyngell says.

Despite concerns by some researchers and funding agencies about "designer babies," he notes that germline editing will still push ahead. But, if it is "to be done in a responsible way, we need countries with good regulatory systems leading the charge," he adds, noting that the UK already has a regulatory framework in place for embryo research.

"What we ought to do is use this resource responsibly," Gyngell writes. "We should harness its power to achieve good ends and restrict its use for purposes that are bad. This will not be achieved by simply withdrawing from research."

The Scan

Cancer Survival Linked to Mutational Burden in Pan-Cancer Analysis

A pan-cancer paper appearing in JCO Precision Oncology suggests tumor mutation patterns provide clues for predicting cancer survival that are independent of other prognostic factors.

Australian Survey Points to Public Support for Genetic Risk Disclosure in Relatives of At-Risk Individuals

A survey in the European Journal of Human Genetics suggests most adult Australians are in favor of finding out if a relative tests positive for a medically actionable genetic variant.

Study Links Evolution of Stony Coral Skeleton to Bicarbonate Transporter Gene

A PNAS paper focuses on a skeleton-related bicarbonate transporter gene introduced to stony coral ancestors by tandem duplication.

Hormone-Based Gene Therapy to Sterilize Domestic Cat

A new paper in Nature Communication suggests that gene therapy could be a safer alternative to spaying domestic cats.