Yesterday John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), posted to the OSTP blog about recent activities in genome editing. While the Chinese effort to conduct genome editing in human embryos attracted headlines and an announcement from the National Institutes of Health stating it would not fund similar research, it was not the specific focus of the statement.
That was reserved for the recent announcement that the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine (the new name of the Institute of Medicine) launched an initiative to address these technologies. The initiative will include an international meeting this fall, along with a committee to study gene-editing technologies and an advisory board to guide the effort. The project will include, technical, social, legal and ethical issues related to these technologies.
Dr. Holdren’s blog post and the Academies’ announcement noted the historical precedents for this kind of a priori assessment, including the restrictions imposed on recombinant DNA research, gain-of-function research, stem cell research and human cloning while researchers and policymakers discussed the implications of that work.
While not going so far as to echo calls for a moratorium on germline genetic editing, Dr. Holdren’s blog post can be read to imply Administration support for such a move.
“The White House applauds NAS and NAM for convening this dialogue and fully supports a robust review of the ethical issues associated with using gene-editing technology to alter the human germline. The Administration believes that altering the human germline for clinical purposes is a line that should not be crossed at this time.”
Given the nature of how the National Academies typically prepare their study committees, the international meeting this fall will more likely be the start of its process rather than a culmination. I would also not be surprised to see the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues engage with these technologies, either through its own initiative or a request from the President.