Gene editing: who should decide?

University of Tokyo, Japan.

Search for this author in:

University of Tokyo, Japan.

Search for this author in:

New York University School of Medicine, New York, USA.

Search for this author in:

Last month’s announcement claiming the birth of the world’s first genome-edited babies has sparked a furore over how to regulate this cutting-edge technology (see Nature 563, 607–608; 2018, and Nature 564, 5; 2018). In our view, piling up scientist-led conferences modelled on Asilomar in 1975 (see Nature 526, 293–294; 2015) without any clear consensus is futile.

But lessons can be drawn from another successful case of scientific self-regulation.That is the 1990 Declaration of Inuyama on genetic screening and gene therapy. The Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences took the lead in calling a conference, made a clear declaration after six days of discussion, and sent it to the World Health Organization, which disseminated it to organizations worldwide. Participants at the conference included biologists, sociologists, psychologists, legal experts, philosophers and religious representatives. Gene therapy could then move from bench to bedside.

International guidelines devised and monitored by scientists could likewise prove useful in regulating genome editing. They should build on previous attempts to do so, for example by the Hinxton Steering Committee in 2015, although the group lacked the necessary diversity (S. Chan et al. Am. J. Bioeth. 15, 42–47; 2015). In return for academic freedom, scientists must regulate themselves — and not just rely on government officials or bioethicists to make such decisions. This regulation would have to involve transparent interaction with citizens.

To restore society’s confidence in researchers’ professional integrity, rogue germline editing must be stopped by fast and forceful action from genome scientists to lay out transparent rules for gene editing in humans and human embryos. Failure to comply with these rules should incur penalties.

Nature 564, 190 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-07720-3
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the daily Nature Briefing email newsletter

Stay up to date with what matters in science and why, handpicked from Nature and other publications worldwide.

Sign Up