» Roundtable on “Genome Editing: Why Ethics Matter?”
24.09.2018 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

Roundtable on “Genome Editing: Why Ethics Matter?”

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At the heart of the discussions was a new genome “editing” technique called CRISPR-Cas9. This technique makes it possible for scientists to insert, remove and correct DNA simply and efficiently.

As the recent improvements in genome editing techniques have made the modification of specific gene sequences of living organisms easier, faster and more precise, its practice has started to be adopted by areas concerning animals and plants, and is now starting in humans. These developments could potentially result in a wide array of medical applications for treating many serious diseases, but on the other hand, they raise ethical concerns such as “designer babies” or embryo editing.  Concerns about the social, cultural, legal and ethical implications of such progress have been growing more rapidly since Crisp cas 9 technique was developed.

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the IBC and the 20th anniversary of the IGBC and COMEST, a series of special events is being organized on these emerging concerns, including the roundtable discussion on “Genome Editing: Why ethics matter?” on September 12, at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. Organized with funding support from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan, the event welcomed Dr. Peter Mills, Assistant Director at the UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Dr. Jennifer Merchant, Professor at Paris II University, and Dr. Carine Giovannangeli, Director of the Institute of Molecular and Structural Basis of Life Sciences at Aviesan. The discussion was moderated by Prof. Hervé Chneiweiss, Chairperson of the Ethics Committee of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM).

The discussion started with Dr. Giovannangeli and her presentation of scientific considerations, including possibilities and limitations of genome editing in order to briefly familiarize the audience with the technique as well as introducing the ethical questions that would later be discussed. Her introduction was followed by Dr. Merchant, who delved into greater detail regarding the ethical and societal issues of targeted genetic modification and its application on humans.

“Before any type of human genome editing should be carried out, one needs to be absolutely assured of its safety, its efficiency and above all that it carries with it more benefits than risks.” – Jennifer Merchant

Ultimately, Dr. Peter Mills discussed the social and ethical issues regarding heritable genome editing based on the report of Nuffield Council of Bioethics, which was then followed by a lively Q&A session with the audience.

The roundtable on “Genome Editing: Why ethics matter?” was only a first step of UNESCO into the series of roundtables to be organized in the upcoming years in celebration of 25 years of reflection on bioethics and ethics of science. UNESCO will proceed to highlight current and potential areas of research and application using recent genome editing techniques that will impact humans, animals, plants and the environment and bring these issues into the discussion of the general public.

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