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WHO guidelines on human genome editing: why countries need to follow them

By Sheetal Soni • 6 September 2021

Human genome editing has great potential. It can improve human health and medicine by making changes to DNA in cells to correct, introduce or delete almost any DNA sequence which may cause disease. Other potential benefits include new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent genetic disorders, novel ways to treat infertility, increasing knowledge of human biology and contributing towards vaccine development.

The potential of this technology came into the spotlight in 2018 when Chinese scientist He Jiankui announced that he had edited the genomes of twin girls. His announcement was met with consternation among many scientists because it highlighted a significant gap in regulation.

In response, the WHO established a committee made up of a global multi-disciplinary panel of 18 experts. The committee was asked to develop standards for human genome editing.

After nearly three years the panel recently published its recommendations. These give advice on appropriate institutional, national, regional and global governance mechanisms for human genome editing.

The report provides a governance framework for genome editing which countries can use to develop their own regulations. It acknowledges that regulation may look different in each country. Nevertheless it asks that each one builds in core values and principles into these frameworks.

The committee produced a series of nine key recommendations. These consider some broader issues associated with the governance of human genome editing. It’s important for countries to try to implement the guidelines so that there can be consensus and a uniform global approach to genome editing.