Scientists think public opinion important before human gene editing

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Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics Journal Report

October 03, 2017

Study Highlights:

  • The public should be consulted before gene editing is used to treat human embryos, a survey of 300 cardiovascular researchers finds.
  • Majority of respondents support gene editing to treat diseases but not for human enhancement.

Embargoed until 3 p.m. CT / 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017

DALLAS, Oct. 3, 2017 – The public should be consulted before gene editing is used to treat human embryos, according to a survey of scientists published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics.

Early studies with human embryos have established the feasibility of human germline genome editing but raise complex social, ethical and legal questions,” said Kiran Musunuru, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, lead survey author and an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine and genetics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“The future is on us, whether we like it or not.”

While new scientific advances have made gene editing easier and open possibilities for improved treatment and prevention of genetic diseases, the technology has risks, including the unintentional alteration of other genes, and ethical concerns, such as the introduction of mutations that will impact all future progeny.

Musunuru and colleagues presented data on the state of gene editing at the American Heart Association’s Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology Peripheral Vascular Disease Scientific Sessions in May 2017, then polled 300 attendees – cardiovascular researchers – to gauge their opinions on gene editing in humans.

They found:

  • 80 percent of respondents supported gene editing in adults to prevent serious diseases but not for enhancements, such as improving athletic ability.
  • 68 percent supported conducting research on germline cells (male sperm cells, female egg cells or embryos resulting from the joining of sperm and egg cells) if the experiments did not lead to pregnancy.
  • 61 percent supported using gene editing of germline cells as an option for parents with no other means to have a healthy biological child.
  • Opinions were split (45 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed) on parents using germline gene editing to reduce their child’s risk of having a serious medical condition.

If gene editing for germline cells became a viable treatment, 68 percent of respondents supported government coverage of costs to ensure that the therapies were available to everyone. However, 72 percent of survey respondents opposed germline gene editing if the general public was not asked for their opinions about the technology first.

“This appears to reflect a general sentiment that the public should be consulted before any clinical application of germline gene editing proceeds,” the survey authors wrote.

Study co-authors are William R. Lagor, Ph.D. and Joseph M. Miano, Ph.D.

Additional Resources:

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Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association’s policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations and health insurance providers are available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country. Follow us on and .

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