NIH, scientists push for moratorium on using CRISPR to make 'designer babies'

Several U.S. and global scientists published a March 13 note in Nature calling for a moratorium on the use of human germline editing to create genetically modified children.

CRISPR, which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a gene-editing technique that allows scientists to edit an organism's DNA. The technique has been used to treat diseases by editing genes of human non-reproductive cells.

However, scientists, along with the National Institutes of Health, are pushing for a global halt on the clinical use of CRISPR to edit heritable genes on embryos. The NIH and scientists propose a five-year moratorium, so countries can collaborate to develop an international framework to follow when using the technology.

Authors of the note cite several instances leading to their call for the moratorium, including the actions of He Jiankui, a biophysicist in China who reportedly edited embryos to create at least two babies in 2018, according to NPR.

"This is a crucial moment in the history of science: a new technology offers the potential to rewrite the script of human life," NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and NIH Acting Chief of Staff Carrie Wolinetz, PhD, wrote in Nature in support of the global moratorium. "We think that human gene editing for reproductive purposes carries very serious consequences — social, ethical, philosophical and theological. Such great consequences deserve deep reflection."

To view the full report, click here.

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