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Editing the CRISPR gene: Why do we need Slow Science



(MENAFN – The Conversation) In a recently published article in Nature, a group of eminent scientists and ethicists called for a moratorium on clinical trials using the CRISPR / Cas9 gene edition.

This moratorium concerns the use of the CRISPR / Cas9 genital gene editing – the change of hereditary DNA in sperm, eggs or embryos to produce genetically modified children.

In other words, it would be a temporary ban on experiments that could result in more "CRISPR children".

Read more: Opening the Pandora's box: Editing genes and its consequences

The document was signed and written by many eminent ethicists and scientists, including CRISPR pioneers Emmanuelle Charpentier (one of CRISPR / Cas9 co-discoverers) and Feng Zhang (one of the first who used CRISPR in human cells), as well as geneticist Eric Lander and bioethics Françoise Baylis and Jing-Bao No.

However, CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna (another co-discoverer of the CRISPR / Cas9 system) refused to sign this call for a moratorium. She said "The Washington Post": "I have the impression that it just refreshes what has been going on for several years."

This is a point of contention, because the word moratorium was rarely used by scientists involved in this research. Many signatories, however, were loud about their views on the editing of germline genes in the past.

When asking for a global moratorium, signatories do not mean a permanent ban, but rather a temporary one – to enable the development of an international governance framework for editing the human germ line genome. In particular, they suggest a five-year moratorium, a period of time sufficient to allow critical discussions and stakeholder engagement.

Importantly, they do not call for a unanimous decision between nations. Countries will be able to develop their own regulatory framework, taking into account the ethical, scientific, technical and medical aspects of the edition of the CRISPR / Cas9 germline gene.

Slow down science for the common good

The editing of the CRISPR / Cas9 gene advanced at an unprecedented rate, because CRISPR was first used in human in vitro cells in 2013 to find the birth of the first children with the genetic gene gene in 2018. This is very worrying, especially when medical needs and social threats are still discussed, and the safety and efficacy of treatment are still largely unknown.

In our opinion, the author of the last editorial of Nature is "Slow CRISPR Science". Slow Science – the answer to the growing speed and corporate interest driving the scientific effort and "publish or die paradigm" – is based on the concepts of Slow Food movement.

Slow Food was a direct response to Fast Food, a system in which the environment, people and economies were often at the expense of corporate interests that allegedly provided quick and easy meals. Ideally, the Slow movement does not call for "lower efficiency or performance" but more thought-out and engaging work in the food and science industry.

When it comes to gene editing, slow moving would mean improving non-hereditary gene editing techniques in patients before an ethical load and technically more difficult hereditary clinical trials of gene editing (which seem to be guided by the profit or necessity of being first rather than social or common good) ).

J. Benjamin Hurlbut, professor of biology and society at the State University of Arizona, wrote in a commentary on nature at the beginning of January 2019:

"To advance in a positive direction, science can not assume that it sets a goal for technology, but it should go in the direction that we humans provide."

The slow learning of CRISPR would allow appropriate consultations with relevant stakeholders and the public before deciding on progress.

Divided scientific community

Scientific communities do not agree on the moratorium. In fact, the commentary published in Science in 2015 pushed the "cautious path forward" and discussed what steps should be taken to ensure ethical and safe use of this technology.

However, the word moratorium has never been used in this document. Moreover, many authors of publications from 2015 departed from the moratorium, and a significant part of the organizing committee of the Human Genome Editing Summit in 2018 (Many of them were also authors of the 2015 scientific article). Suggest a "translational path" based on the case " broad scientific consensus "on the editing of the human germline genome.

This is in direct conflict with the language included in the final statement of 2015. On the topic of the Human Genes Editing Summit, which considered that the genome line editing was "irresponsible" until appropriate security and effectiveness issues and "broad social consensus" were addressed.

Many have effectively omitted the question "How can we do this" and not "Should we do it?"

Eventually, a period of time for a break and reflection would allow citizens of every nation to make an important conversation about whether their society accepts the editing of the embryo genome. Each society must decide for themselves whether benefits outweigh the risks, but are informed by science, but are not dictated by it.

Time to do it right

In the case of Canada, the moratorium will have little impact on the research activity of CRISPR, because the edition of germline germline genes is already banned under the 2004 Human Assisted Reproduction Act.

Apparently the stakes are high, and mistakes in early CRISPR applications for human health can result in a total ban on this technology, which includes such an incredible promise to alleviate human suffering by curing a genetic disease.

Therefore, in our opinion, a reasonable step is to temporarily press the gap to edit genetic line genes to allow for a deeper consideration of risks and benefits. In essence, this is what the scientists and ethicists are calling for in the proposed moratorium.

They are asking for time for a break and reflection. It is time to carry out appropriate consultations with relevant stakeholders and (what is very important) public opinion in order to achieve a broad social consensus. And finally, it's time to develop the most robust and precise tools for gene editing, so that we can rewrite the source code of humanity using CRISPR / Cas9, they did it well.

    CRISPR CRISPR / Cas9 Bioethics Germline edition. Moratorium research. Genes editing

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Editing the CRISPR gene: Why do we need Slow Science


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