The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a statement calling for a stop to germline editing in humans. This is in light of recent controversial experiments in the field which emphasized patient safety concerns.

Germline editing refers to the genome editing of reproductive cells. These changes are inheritable, and the technology has the potential to eliminate genetic diseases in children before they are born. However, the technology is still in its early stages.

The controversial scientist He Jiankui claims he used CRISPR to edit the genomes of twins before they were born to make them immune to HIV. He aimed to disable the gene for the protein CCR5, which is utilised by the HIV virus. However, disabling this gene does not provide complete protection from HIV and is speculated to have harmed the immune function in the twins. There is also some evidence of other non-targeted mutations caused by CRISPR. Scientists are concerned that these factors may reduce the lifespan of the twins.

The WHO expert advisory committee on governance and oversight of human genome editing presented the recommendation to the WHO Director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, that ‘it would be irresponsible at this time for anyone to proceed with clinical applications of human germline genome editing.’ WHO has advised authorities around to world not to approve any research applications that involve human germline editing.

 Dr Tedros has stated that ‘Human germline genome editing poses unique and unprecedented ethical and technical challenges… I have accepted the interim recommendations of WHO’s Expert Advisory Committee that regulatory authorities in all countries should not allow any further work in this area until its implications have been properly considered.’

The next meeting of the committee will debate how to prevent the germline editing of human embryos until the technology has become more advanced.