Academies’ action plan for germline editing

US National Academy of Medicine, Washington DC, USA.

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US National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, USA.

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Royal Society, London, UK.

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We share the concerns raised by Eric Lander and colleagues, who call for a moratorium on clinical uses of heritable human genome editing and emphasize the urgent need for an acceptable international framework.

Statements from the organizing committees of both the 2015 and the 2018 international summits on human genome editing made it clear that any clinical use of heritable genome editing would be irresponsible at this time. A 2017 report by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine also concluded that clinical use, including clinical trials, of heritable germline editing should not proceed until preclinical research clarifies the potential risks and benefits, and should be considered only for compelling medical reasons, in the absence of reasonable alternatives. And in 2018, the London-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics recommended more research to establish standards for clinical use, along with opportunities for broad societal engagement.

To this end, the US National Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Medicine and the UK Royal Society are leading an international commission to detail the scientific and ethical issues that must be considered, and to define specific criteria and standards for evaluating whether proposed clinical trials or applications that involve germline editing should be permitted. Dozens of scientific academies around the world are lending their support to the commission. We also welcome the establishment by the World Health Organization of an expert panel on human genome editing, with which we have agreed to liaise closely.

Our intention is that the commission’s work will be an important step forward in reaching international consensus on standards that should apply to decisions about germline editing. As emphasized previously by our academies and others, we also recognize that — beyond the scientific and medical communities — we must achieve broad societal consensus before making any decisions, given the global implications of heritable genome editing.

Nature 567, 175 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-00813-7

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