BFF-18 WHO says creating panel to study gene editing

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WHO says creating panel to study gene editing

GENEVA, Dec 4, 2018 (AFP) – The World Health Organization said Monday it is
creating a panel to study the implications of gene editing after a Chinese
scientist controversially claimed to have created the world’s first
genetically-edited babies.

“It cannot just be done without clear guidelines,” the head of the United
Nations health agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told reporters in Geneva.

“WHO is putting together experts and we are working with member states…to
discuss the standards and guidelines that can cover the ethical and social
safety issues,” added Tedros, a former Ethiopian health minister.

Tedros made the comments after a medical trial, which was led by Chinese
scientist He Jiankui, claimed to have successfully altered the DNA of twin
girls, whose father is HIV-positive, to prevent them from contracting the
virus.

His experiment has prompted widespread condemnation from the scientific
community in China and abroad, as well as a harsh backlash from the Chinese
government.

Tedros said WHO was in the process of setting up the panel. He did not
however characterise the initiative as a direct response to the Chinese
trial.

He also declined to speculate on whether WHO could envision a future where
some form of gene editing could offer public health benefits.

The panel will start with “a clean sheet,” Tedros said. “They can start by
asking ‘should we even consider this?”

The group will include academics as well as WHO and government medical
experts, he added.

“We have to be very, very careful…We should not go into gene editing
without understanding the unintended consequences.”

Last week, the Chinese ministry of science and technology stressed its
opposition to the gene-editing baby experiment, and demanded a halt to the
“scientific activities of relevant personnel”.

The Chinese scientist’s claims were “shocking and unacceptable” and
breached “the bottom line of morality and ethics that the academic community
adheres to”, vice minister Xu Nanping told state broadcaster CCTV, warning
that it may have broken the law.

BSS/AFP/GMR/1000 hrs