“Editing the human genome has the potential to improve our ability to treat and cure diseases, but it will only be fully effective if we use it for the benefit of all people, rather than increasing health inequalities between and within countries stir up “, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO).
A representative report
The entirety of the genes in an organism or a cell is called the genome.
The WHO said in a press release that the forward-looking reports were the result of extensive, global consultations on the various types of gene therapies that modify a patient’s DNA to treat or cure disease. This includes germline and hereditary editing of the human genome, which involves making changes to genetic material that can include the development of human embryos.
The WHO’s biennial analysis examined the diverse perspectives of hundreds of scientists, patients, religious leaders, indigenous peoples and others.
“These new reports from the WHO Expert Panel represent a leap forward in this area of rapidly evolving science,” said Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist.
Advantages and disadvantages
Potential benefits of editing the human genome include faster, more accurate diagnosis, more targeted treatments, and the ability to prevent genetic disorders.
Somatic gene therapies have successfully addressed HIV and sickle cell anemia, and the technique has the potential to greatly improve the treatment of a wide variety of cancers.
Safe, effective and ethical
The reports recommend that the editing of the human genome should be managed and supervised in nine separate areas, including registers; international studies; and illegal, unregistered, unethical research.
They focus on the system-level improvements needed to build capacity in each country to ensure that human genome editing is safe, effective and ethical.
“As global research penetrates deeper into the human genome, we need to minimize risk and find ways that science can improve the health of all people everywhere,” said Dr. Swaminathan.
The reports also provide a governance framework that identifies specific tools, institutions and scenarios to illustrate the challenges in implementing, regulating and monitoring research into the human genome.
The framework offers specific recommendations for dealing with a variety of scenarios, such as the use of somatic or epigenetic genome editing to increase athletic performance, as well as performance after in vitro fertilization and pre-implantation diagnostics.
Dig into the genes
In the future, WHO will convene a small committee of experts to consider the next steps for the registry, including how to better monitor clinical trials using worrying human genome editing technologies.
It will also bring participants together to develop an accessible mechanism for confidential reporting on potentially illegal, unregistered, unethical and unsafe research and other human genome editing activities.
As part of its commitment to education, engagement and empowerment, the UN Health Authority will host regional webinars that focus on regional and local needs.
And it will work on how to build an inclusive global dialogue on frontier technologies, including working with UN agencies and creating web-based resources for reliable information about these machines, including manipulating the human genome.