Human genome editing set for advancement in public health following WHO’s new recommendations

SWITZERLAND – The World Health Organization (WHO) has released two new companion reports that provide global recommendations to establish human genome editing as a tool for public health.

These reports fully emphasize on safety, effectiveness and ethics as they were released after a broad global consultation that touched on somatics, germline and heritable human genome editing.

The consultation, which spanned over two years, involved hundreds of participants representing diverse perspectives from around the world, including scientists and researchers, patient groups, faith leaders and indigenous peoples.

“Human genome editing has the potential to advance our ability to treat and cure disease, but the full impact will only be realized if we deploy it for the benefit of all people, instead of fueling more health inequity between and within countries,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

For human genome editing, the report oversaw nine discrete area, including human genome editing registries; international research and medical travel; illegal, unregistered, unethical or unsafe research; intellectual property; and education, engagement and empowerment.

Additionally, the reports also provide a new governance framework that identifies specific tools, institutions and scenarios to illustrate practical challenges in implementing, regulating and overseeing research into the human genome.

“These new reports from WHO’s Expert Advisory Committee represent a leap forward for this area of rapidly emerging science,” said WHO’s Chief Scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan. “As global research delves deeper into the human genome, we must minimize risks and leverage ways that science can drive better health for everyone, everywhere.”

Based on recommendation from the report WHO is to Convene a small expert committee to consider next steps for the Registry, including how to better monitor clinical trials using human genome editing technologies of concern;

Convene multisector stakeholders to develop an accessible mechanism for confidential reporting of concerns about possibly illegal, unregistered, unethical and unsafe human genome editing research and other activities; and

Work within the Science Division to consider how to build an inclusive global dialogue on frontier technologies, including cross-UN working and the creation of web-based resources for reliable information on frontier technologies, including human genome editing as a commitment to increase education engagement and empowerment.

However, WHO gives cautionary concerns about the risks involved with genome editing an example being germline and heritable human genome editing, which alter the genome of human embryos and could be passed on to subsequent generations, modifying descendants’ traits.

Despite the potential challenges genome editing presents, it still is receiving a lot of attention globally and just a couple of years back, the National institute of Health (NIH)pumped funds worth US$89M for a Somatic Cell Genome Editing program (SCGE).

“NIH Common Fund programs are meant to have exceptional impact across a broad area of science,” said Elizabeth Wilder, Ph.D., director of NIH’s Office of Strategic Coordination, which oversees the Common Fund. “As a Common Fund program, SCGE aims to transform the field of genome editing by developing new tools and moving them toward clinical use.”

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