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After ‘CRISPR babies’ scandal, senators call for gene editing guidelines

W ASHINGTON – A bipartisan trio of senators on Monday introduced a resolution investigating their opposition to the experiments last year in China, leading to the birth of the world's first genome-edited babies.

The resolution from Sens . Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), And Jack Reed (DR.I.) also reiterated support for international groups working to produce guidelines for the clinical use of germline editing – meaning changes to the DNA in sperm, eggs, or early embryos that would have passed down to future generations.

If passed, the resolution would not change US Law; editing embryos with the purpose of creating children is already illegal in the United States. But the action by the senators stands out, since some members of Congress have recently expressed some openness to lifting the ban on editing embryos used to start pregnancies. Scientists in other countries have also announced plans to continue such experiments, and some scientific and patient advocacy groups have emphasized how germline editing, once the technology improves, could spell off cases of genetic disease.

"Gene editing This is a powerful technology that has the potential to lead to new therapies for devastating and previously untreatable diseases, ”Feinstein said in a statement. "However, like any new technology, there is potential for misuse. The international community must establish standards for genetic editing research to develop global ethical principles and prevent unethical researchers from moving to which the country has the loosest regulations. ”

The resolution highlights the international commission established by the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, the U.S. The National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society of the U.K. in May. That commission is tasked with developing a framework for the scientific community to use when considering potential clinical applications or germline editing.

It is one of several international efforts that have come in response to the announcement last year by Chinese scientist He Jiankui that is had created the world's first "CRISPR babies": twin girls whose DNA had been created by the genome editor CRISPR while they were embryos. Scientists around the world condemn his ethical and technical failures in pursuing such work, arguing that the technology is not ready for clinical use yet.

Some scientists have called for a global moratorium on clinical applications of germline editing, but as Victor Dzau, the president of the National Academy of Medicine, customs statute last month, the new commissions do not have the authority to stop scientists in other countries from undertaking such work.

The Senate resolution would also encourage the State Department to partner with international organizations to develop a global consensus on when germline editing could be considered for clinical use.

"As we continue to develop groundbreaking therapies to prevent and cure diseases, it's clear that gene-editing has incredible potential," Rubio said in a statement. "However, there are dangerous and unethical ramifications if countries perform unrestricted and unethical experiments on humans to advance the science of gene editing … As we move forward, it is vital that the United States lead the way in creating ethical standards for gene editing research. ”

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