World Health Organization joins fight against lax genetic editing standards

Mike Wehner

It’s now been several months since Chinese scientist He Jiankui revealed that he had successfully edited the genes of human embryos, which were then carried to term, resulting in the first genetically modified humans. His work was quickly shunned by all corners of the scientific community, and his fate remains unknown.

Last week, a large group of geneticists and researchers called for a moratorium on genetic editing until a robust regulatory framework could be established. Now, the World Health Organization is weighing in, and while it stops short of suggesting a prohibition on current genetics work, the group makes it clear that it supports regulations and oversight in genome editing.

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In a new bulletin, WHO reveals what it believes are the next steps that need to be taken in order to ensure safe and responsible genetics research. The group says it plans on building a “central registry on human genome editing research” so that scientists around the world can update colleagues on progress of various research efforts, holding everyone accountable.

WHO also commits to forming a framework by which scientists can adhere in order to ensure their work is being conducted responsibly:

Over the next two years, through a series of in-person meetings and online consultations, the committee will consult with a wide range of stakeholders and provide recommendations for a comprehensive governance framework that is scalable, sustainable and appropriate for use at the international, regional, national and local levels. The committee will solicit the views of multiple stakeholders including patient groups, civil society, ethicists and social scientists.

“Gene editing holds incredible promise for health, but it also poses some risks, both ethically and medically,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “This committee is a perfect example of WHO’s leadership, by bringing together some of the world’s leading experts to provide guidance on this complex issue. I am grateful to each member of the Expert Advisory Committee for their time and expertise.”

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