Edward Lanphier et al in Nature:
It is thought that studies involving the use of genome-editing tools to modify the DNA of human embryos will be published shortly1. There are grave concerns regarding the ethical and safety implications of this research. There is also fear of the negative impact it could have on important work involving the use of genome-editing techniques in somatic (non-reproductive) cells. We are all involved in this latter area of work. One of us (F.U.) helped to develop the first genome-editing technology, zinc-finger nucleases2 (ZFNs), and is now senior scientist at the company developing them, Sangamo BioSciences of Richmond, California. The Alliance for Regenerative Medicine (ARM; in which E.L., M.W. and S.E.H. are involved), is an international organization that represents more than 200 life-sciences companies, research institutions, non-profit organizations, patient-advocacy groups and investors focused on developing and commercializing therapeutics, including those involving genome editing.
Genome-editing technologies may offer a powerful approach to treat many human diseases, including HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, sickle-cell anaemia and several forms of cancer3. All techniques currently in various stages of clinical development focus on modifying the genetic material of somatic cells, such as T cells (a type of white blood cell). These are not designed to affect sperm or eggs. In our view, genome editing in human embryos using current technologies could have unpredictable effects on future generations. This makes it dangerous and ethically unacceptable. Such research could be exploited for non-therapeutic modifications. We are concerned that a public outcry about such an ethical breach could hinder a promising area of therapeutic development, namely making genetic changes that cannot be inherited.
At this early stage, scientists should agree not to modify the DNA of human reproductive cells. Should a truly compelling case ever arise for the therapeutic benefit of germline modification, we encourage an open discussion around the appropriate course of action.