Today, genomes of human embryos cannot be edited to treat diseases in the UK, but now that the UK is leaving the EU, the laws on the use of genetic technologies might be updated. (Photo: iStock/Vhal)

New developments and improved methods for DNA-editing mean a wider range of applications available for treating and curing serious diseases. Whether or not these technologies should be used in a clinical setting, according to the public, have been unknown, until now.

In a survey conducted by the Royal Society, more than 2,000 UK citizens have said they’re very much in favour of using genome editing to prevent inheritance of genetic disorders.

The survey found that as much as 76% were in favour of correcting genetic diseases in human embryos, even though the modifications would be inherited by future generations. 71% were in favour of correcting genetic diseases in a way that meant the modified gene would not be inherited.

 

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“That’s a very dramatic result,” said Robin Lovell-Badge, Chair of the Royal Society’s Genetics Technology Programme and Leading Scientist at the Francis Crick Insitute in London, according to The Guardian.  

As it stands today, genomes of human embryos cannot be edited to treat diseases in the UK, but now that the UK is leaving the EU, the laws on the use of genetic technologies might be updated. 

“It might give us some opportunities to go a different way to other countries in Europe where the applications of these technologies to plants and animals and humans has been very restricted,” Prof. Lovell-Badge continued. 

The survey showed extensive approval for genome editing to cure life-threatening diseases that are currently incurable, such as muscular dystrophy, where 83% were in favour, and leukaemia, where 82% were in favour. A big majority, 73%, were also in favour of using genome editing to treat diseases such as arthritis, which is not life-threatening. 

 

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“With developments in science making genetic technologies faster, easier to use and more affordable, now is the time to discuss how we use these new genetic tools, if we should use them and where we want them to take us,” Prof Lovell-Badge said. 

“Working out what we as a society find ethically acceptable requires open and inclusive debate involving many voices – and any decisions as to their use should not be left to scientists and clinicians alone, but involve all sectors of society.” 

Although the majority was positive on genome editing in general, the survey found little enthusiasm for non-clinical modifications, such as cosmetic reasons or enhancing certain abilities or traits.