11 HHGE recommendations: solid, well thought out
Generally, the 11 recommendations regarding HHGE made by the Commission seem logical and carefully thought out. The Commission gave due consideration to the main technical considerations.
There’s a good balance in the recommendations of having international bodies providing guidelines and input, while there’s a dose of realism that often it will be individual countries making their own decisions about how to handle HHGE. Here is my very brief outline of the 11 recommendations:
- Do not attempt to make a gene-edited baby because we’re not ready technically
- Societal dialogue is needed before moving forward as well
- There are so many potential uses of HHGE that one path cannot be a universal framework
- Criteria for potential uses such as for severe genetic diseases, including not editing WT embryos
- Do not proceed in the future until there is compelling preclinical evidence of safety and efficacy
- You need a plan for evaluating embryos in the pipeline to potential implantation
- Continue research on making gametes from stem cells
- Countries considering proceeding with HHGE should have regulatory bodies and frameworks in place to evaluate and if it proceeds, to oversee the process
- An International Scientific Advisory Panel (ISAP) should be established to stay on top of the main issues and advances, and the ISAP can advise countries on where things stand. (who’s going to decide who is on the panel?)
- A second international body should be established to provide recommendations. (what’s the difference between the panels? The second one has more impact?)
- An international mechanism should be in place to field reports of deviations from standards or other concerns on HHGE research.
Gaps in the report
Are technical challenges unresolvable?
I wonder whether the technical hurdles like mosaicism and reducing the risk of deleterious on- and off-target effects can ever be overcome satisfactorily. In my view, the report summary should have been more direct about just how difficult these challenges will be and raise the possibility that they may never be resolved.
Societal, social justice, and ethical issues
The report also sidesteps non-scientific issues that are nonetheless crucial. In this way the report is more focused on “can” we do this and less on “should” we do this.
Looking ahead, idea of a temporary moratorium, & designer babies
More broadly, I personally still feel that a temporary moratorium on HHGE is our best bet for the next 3-5 years. The actions of He Jiankui (making at least two and probably three babies with CRISPR who may face health problems due to the reckless nature of the gene edits) and his prison sentence have practically-speaking made it far less likely that someone else will go rogue, but a temporary moratorium poses little risk and could help in some ways.