The study of genetics has come a long way from Gregor Mendel’s experiment on his pea plants to examine the genotypes and phenotypes of organisms. We then gained the understanding of spontaneous mutation and factors affecting mutagenesis before the earliest known gene targeting experiment in yeast and mice between the start of the 1970s to 1980s.
Today, we have made great stride in the field of genetics through gene editing which allows us to add, remove or even alter genetic materials in humans, plants and animals. Such innovation is greatly needed for us to better manage or prevent severe genetic diseases that cannot be treated with medications or even acquired conditions that manipulate our genes. However, such ability has unlocked other potential for abuse and violation of ethical grounds as we can change an organism to a significant degree that could potentially be dangerous.
To regulate this relatively new innovation, on the 14th of February 2019, the World Health Organisation announced its Expert Advisory Committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing. The 18 strong committee is co-chaired by the South Africa’s Highest Court Justice, Cameron Edwin and United States’ Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Medicine, Dr Margaret Hamburg. The task of the committee is to examine the scientific, ethical, social and legal challenges associated with human gene editing with the aim to advise and make recommendations on appropriate governance mechanisms for human genome editing.
Recruitment of the committee was formed after an open call for members was made which closed on the 11th of January 2019. The Committee is set to meet on 18th to 19th of March in Geneva, to review the current landscape and discuss and agree the work plan for the coming 12-18 months.
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