“Editing” or altering human sperm, eggs, and embryos has been an area of growing interest and concern, even as the ability to change human genes seems better fit for a sci-fi film. An international summit of scientists, researchers, and educators from 20 countries recently convened to discuss the progress that has been made as well as the limitations and problems that could occur as the possibilities for in-utero and pre-conception genetic modifications come closer to reality. Although the scientists confirmed that “designer babies” are still a far-off possibility, scientists have already been able to use gene editing to breed animals, including monkeys. Additionally, Chinese researchers recently made the first attempt to alter genes in human embryos that were considered too abnormal to develop into a fetus, a process called germline editing that involves manipulating sperm, eggs, or early embryos. According to Yahoo! News, Chairman of the summit, Nobel laureate David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology, declared, “‘It would be irresponsible’ to edit human sperm, eggs or early embryos in a way that leads to pregnancy.” Deleting or inserting genes that create Stepford children aside, the process of gene editing has great potential in helping to solve and prevent devastating illnesses. Older gene editing tools have recently begun being used in clinical trials for diseases including hemophilia, cancer, and HIV. Those in attendance at the summit discussed relevant ethical issues and implications including the fact that altering one gene could have unforeseen and long-term effects on other genes as well as on the descendants of the person whose genes were initially altered. The summit also raised the question of whether these costly therapies and advancements would be accessible for people in third world countries, where access to medications and treatments for diseases such as HIV is already problematic. The summit ultimately concluding by supporting treatment-related gene editing, while acknowledging that cautious and careful research should continue with regards to the germline editing, with plenty of opportunity to revisit the subject as advancements are made.

via Yahoo!

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