The Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, summarized by a report on the proceedings of the workshop, addressed several concerns regarding and advances in the field of human genome editing. Though the ability to edit genes is not novel, a breakthrough discovery in 2012 known as CRISPR-Cas9 provided the tools to massively increase the speed and accuracy with which genome editing can occur. This new technology has sparked several debates around the ethical implications of altering human cells. Two basic types of cells exist in the human body: somatic or germ cells. Somatic manipulation has garnered far less controversy as the genetic change will only exist as long as that person is alive; germ line changes, on the other hand, will persist in their offspring forever, a prospect that has raised alarm in many circles, especially in light of a report that a Chinese scientist altered the germline DNA of twin fetuses to try to disable a gene that is involved in HIV infection (CCR5).
The summit brought together more than 500 researchers from around the world to discuss emerging technologies and subjects associated with human gene editing. Various panels discussed the bioethical, scientific, and regulatory facets of editing the human genome. The participants emphasized the need for broad public engagement, caution, and serious reflection on the possible consequences of altering the human germline, concluding that they “applaud the rapid advance of somatic gene editing into clinical trials, [but] continue to believe that proceeding with any clinical use of germline editing remains irresponsible at this time.”