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To Your Health: NLM update Transcript

Moratorium on a type of gene editing?: 08/17/2015

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Here is what's new this week in To Your Health, a consumer health oriented podcast from NLM, that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.

The potential via gene editing to alter human eggs, sperm, or tissue that produce reproductive cells merits international scrutiny and careful controls, writes one of the world's leading genetic scientists in a perspective recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine

Eric Lander Ph.D., Director of the Broad Institute at MIT, endorses an international meeting that will explore new strategies to limit gene editing which will occur later this fall. Lander explains several scientific groups recently urged a moratorium on a type of human gene editing and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences will host a fall 2015 meeting that will be attended by similar academies from other nations. Lander adds the latter meeting is intended to initiate a renewed consideration of the limits of gene editing.

Lander writes (and we quote): 'It has been only about a decade since we first read the human genome. We should exercise great caution before we begin to rewrite it,' (end of quote).

Lander explains new scientific tools now enable gene interventions in the germline, or the eggs, sperm or tissues that produce reproductive cells. While Lander emphasizes genomic editing holds significant promise to fix faulty genes in a mature body, he argues the application of a similar technology to intervene in areas that produce reproductive cells pose significant ethical challenges to scientists and society.

Lander writes (and we quote): "the technology also raises a more troubling possibility; creating children carrying permanent, heritable changes to the human germline DNA. The press has dubbed such brave new progeny 'designer babies' or 'genetically modified humans'" (end of quote).

Lander adds the current task is to develop an actionable framework to evaluate human germline editing. Most of Lander's perspective proposes such a framework, which is based on issues such as whether the medical needs for germline gene editing outweigh the risks.

However, Lander argues the ultimate goal of the forthcoming meeting should be to ban germline editing internationally at this time — except in a very few specific conditions where no clinical alternatives to gene therapy exist.

Lander concludes (and we quote): 'For my own part, I see much wisdom in such a position, at least for the foreseeable future. A ban could always be reversed if we become technically proficient, scientifically knowledgeable, and morally wise enough and if we can make a compelling case. But authorizing scientists to make permanent changes to the DNA of our species is a decision that should require broad societal understanding and consent' (end of quote).

Meanwhile, MedlinePlus.gov's genes and gene therapy health topic page reminds us genes are the building blocks of inheritance. MedlinePlus.gov's genes and gene therapy health topic page adds gene therapy is an experimental technique that uses genes to treat or prevent disease.

An insightful guide to gene therapy (from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) is available in the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's genes and gene therapy health topic page. A link to a JAMA patient page about genomic medicine also is available in the 'start here' section.

An updated guide to gene therapy clinical procedures is provided by the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy within the 'specific conditions' section of MedlinePlus.gov's genes and gene therapy health topic page.

MedlinePlus.gov's genes and gene therapy health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the 'journal articles' section. Links to relevant clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the 'clinical trials' section. You can sign up to receive updates about genes and gene therapy as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.

To find MedlinePlus.gov's genes and gene therapy health topic page type 'gene therapy' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'genes and gene therapy (National Library of Medicine).' We also recommend Genetics Home Reference, NLM's comprehensive website exclusively devoted to information about genetics and genetic diseases. Just type 'Genetics Home Reference' in any search engine to find it.

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