In a recently published article in the naturea group of prominent scientists and ethicists called for a moratorium on clinical research using CRISPR / Cas9 genes.
This moratorium deals with the use of CRISPR / Cas9 genes to regulate the zygote line – by changing the hereditary DNA in sperm, eggs or embryos to make genetically modified children.
In other words, this would be a temporary ban on experiments that could lead to more CRISPR babies.
Opening Pandora's box: Editing the genes and its consequences
The document was signed by many prominent ethicists and scientists, including CRISPR pioneers, Emmanuelle Charpentier (one of CRISPR / Cas9 detectors) and Feng Zhang (one of the first to use CRISPR in human cells), as well as geneticist Eric Lander and bioetics Francoise Bailis and Jing-Bao Nie.
However, CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna (the second co-discoverer of the CRISPR / Cas9 system) refused to sign this call for a moratorium. She said The Washington Post: "I feel this is actually just a repeat of what has been happening for several years now."
This is a controversial point, because the words moratorium are rarely used by scientists involved in this research. Many signatories, however, have spoken out loud about their views on regulating the germination gene in the past.
Seeking a global moratorium, signatories do not imply a permanent ban but temporary – to allow the development of an international governance framework that regulates the regulation of the genome of the human germinal line. In particular, they propose a five-year moratorium, a period of time sufficient to allow critical interviews and engagement of stakeholders.
It is important that they do not call for a unanimous decision among nations. The Earth would be allowed to devise its regulatory framework taking into account ethical, scientific, technical, and medical considerations for the editing of the CRISPR / Cas9 gene.
Slowing science for the common good
The adaptation of CRISPR / Cas9 gene was promoted at an unprecedented rate, as CRISPR was first used in human in vitro cells in 2013 to claim the birth of the first babies that regulated the genetic lines in 2018. This is very worrying, especially when the medical need of social risks is are still being considered, and the safety and efficacy of treatment are still largely unknown.
In our opinion, what are the authors of the recent the nature Editorial search for Slov. CRISPR Science. Slow science – a response to the growing speed and corporate interest that spurred the scientific endeavor and "to publish or collapse the paradigm" – was built on the concepts of the Slov Food movement.
Slov Food was a direct response to Fast Food, a system in which the environment, people and businesses are often endangered at the expense of corporate interests that allegedly provided quick and simple meals. Ideally, the Slovenian Movement does not call for "less productivity or efficiency", but for a more careful and more interesting work in the food industry and in science.
Regarding gene regulation, moving slowly would mean the perfecting of non-hereditary gene regulation techniques in patients before attempting ethically charged and technically difficult clinical studies to edit hereditary genes (which seem to be driven by profit or need to be first, social needs or general good).
J. Benjamin Hurlbut, associate professor of biology and society at the State University of Arizona, wrote the nature comment at the beginning of January 2019:
"In order to move forward in a positive direction, science can not assume that it determines a destination for technology, but it should follow the direction that we, people, provide."
The slow science of CRISPR would allow proper consultation with relevant stakeholders and the public before making a decision on progress.
A shared scientific community
Scientific communities disagree on moratorium issues. In fact, a comment published in Science In 2015, he advocated a "prudent way forward" and discussed what steps should be taken to ensure the ethical and secure use of this technology.
However, the word moratorium has never been used in this document. Moreover, many authors of the publication from 2015 deviated from the moratorium, with a larger number of the organizing committee of the Summit for the regulation of the human genome in 2018 (many of them were also authors in 2015) Science suggests a "translational path" based on a "wide scientific consensus" on the regulation of the genome of the human germinal line.
This is in direct conflict with the language in the final edition of the Summit for the Editing of the Genetic Module in 2015, which considered that the editing of the genome of the germinal line was "irresponsible" until addressing the relevant safety and efficacy issues and when achieving a "broad consensus of society" .
Many effectively skipped the question "How can we do it" and not "Should we do that?"
In the end, the pause and reflection period would allow citizens of every nation to lead an important conversation about whether their society approves the editing of the genomic line. Every company must decide for itself whether the awards overcome the risks, which science has informed, but not dictated by it.
It's time to correct it
For Canada, the moratorium will have little impact on the research activity of CRISPR because the germination of the embryo editing gene is already prohibited under the Assistance Reproduction Act.
It is clear that the roles are high, and the wrong steps in the early application of CRISPR to human health can result in the prohibition of this technology, which has such an unbelievable promise to alleviate human suffering by curing genetic diseases.
Therefore, a cautious step in our opinion is to temporarily press a pause to edit the zenith line genes in order to allow for a deeper consideration of risks and benefits. Basically, this is what these scholars and ethics seek in their proposed moratorium.
They are looking for time to stop and think. It is time to conduct appropriate consultations with relevant stakeholders, and (which is very important) to the public in an attempt to achieve a broad social consensus. And finally, it's time to develop the most powerful and most accurate gene editing tools, so when we use CRISPR / Cas9 to overwrite the original humanity code, we will correct that.