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Too Soon for Editing, But Standards Needed

An advisory panel convened by the World Health Organization has called for the establishment of international standards for human gene-editing studies as well as the development of an international registry of such work, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Journal notes that the WHO assembled the panel in 2018 in response to the announcement that researcher He Jiankui used CRISPR-Cas9 tools to alter the genomes of a handful of babies as embryos, which sparked an outcry. He was later sentenced to three years in jail after being convicted of an illegal medical practice. The incident triggered ethical discussions of whether the human genome should be edited, and, if so, under what circumstances.

The WHO panel reiterated a previous position that it is too soon to perform heritable human genome editing, according to Nature News. The International Commission on the Clinical Use of Human Germline Genome Editing similarly concluded last year that heritable human genome editing isn't yet safe or effective enough to be implemented.

The WHO panel also suggests that the international health agency support the establishment of an international governance structures for human genome editing studies as well as the formation of a global registry to track editing studies, create a mechanism for whistleblowers to report unethical work, and encourage the equitable development of the technology.

Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO chief scientist, says she expects the agency to review the recommendations within three years, given the fast pace of change in the field, the Journal adds.