Genetic experts say human genome editing should be fine in the lab, but not for making babies.

An international group of 11 organisations with genetics expertise has issued a policy statement on germline genome editing in humans, which recommends against genome editing that culminates in human pregnancy.

But the statement supports publicly funded, in vitro research into its potential clinical applications, and outlines scientific and societal steps necessary before implementation of such clinical applications is considered.

It comes after the announcement that human embryos had been edited in the US for the first time.

“Our workgroup on genome editing included experts in several subfields of human genetics as well as from countries with varying health systems and research infrastructure,” said Dr Kelly Ormond, lead author of the statement and Professor of Genetics at Stanford University.

“Given this diversity of perspective, we are encouraged by the agreement we were able to reach and hope it speaks to the soundness and wider acceptability of our recommendations,” she said.

The CRISPR/Cas9 system, a genome editing tool introduced in 2013, has quickly become widely used in genetics research due to the ease with which it can be customized and its effectiveness across cell types and species.

There is strong interest in using this tool in somatic cells – to develop cell-based therapeutics, for example – as well as in germline cells.

The germline question is the focus of the statement, and an ethically more complex issue because of potential effects on not just the treated individual but also future generations.

The authors of the statement agreed that:

  • At this time, it is inappropriate to perform germline gene editing that culminates in human pregnancy, and
  • There is currently no reason to prohibit in vitro (outside of a living organism) germline genome editing research, with appropriate oversight and consent, or to prohibit public funding for such research.

Further, they agreed that before any future clinical application of germline genome editing takes place, there should be:

  • A compelling medical rationale to use this approach
  • An evidence base to support its clinical use
  • An ethical justification, and
  • A transparent and public process to solicit and incorporate stakeholder input

“As basic science research into genome editing progresses in the coming years, we urge stakeholders to have these important ethical and social discussions in tandem,” said Professor Ormond.