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WHO to Set Up Panel to Develop Gene-Editing Standards

The World Health Organization announced it was setting up a team of experts to develop guidelines and standards for gene editing, Reuters reports.

This announcement comes about a week after He Jiankui announced he had used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool to modify the CCR5 gene within embryos that were then implanted and brought to term. This revelation was met with widespread criticism, and the International Human Genome Editing Summit, where He then gave a presentation, rebuked him, and said his claim to have gene-edited embryos was "deeply disturbing" and "irresponsible." The organizing committee further said the "the scientific understanding and technical requirements for clinical practice remain too uncertain and the risks too great to permit clinical trials of germline editing at this time."

The WHO says it will work with its member states to put together a working group to study the ethical and safety issues associated with gene editing. "Gene editing may have unintended consequences, this is uncharted water and it has to be taken seriously," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said during a press briefing, according to Reuters.

"We are talking about human beings, editing should not harm the welfare of the future person," Tedros added. "We have to be very careful, the working group will do that with all openness and transparency."