Washington, D.C. – The Research and Technology Subcommittee today held the first congressional hearing to examine the science and ethics of genetically engineered human DNA.
Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas): “The new discoveries in genetically engineered human DNA offer potential cures for devastating genetic disorders. But the speed at which these new, simpler and cheaper technologies are being used in the lab also presents ethical and health concerns. The purpose of the Science Committee is to explore the significance of scientific discoveries as well as their potential implications for humankind. But we also must always be conscious of the potential ethical and moral issues raised by previously unimagined scientific breakthroughs.”
Witnesses today discussed the science behind new gene editing technologies, examined ethical implications and risks, and explored how to build a responsible framework for utilizing these technologies so that the United States can provide scientific and ethical leadership in this arena.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-Va.): “Rapid advances in biotech research have brought great opportunities for new medical treatments and products, and simultaneously have also raised questions about possible ethical implications and safety issues. New tools that allow a gene to be deleted, inserted, or replaced by a different piece of DNA are becoming more cost-effective and simpler to execute.”
Last April, it was reported that a team of Chinese researchers attempted to edit the genome of human embryos for the first time. The technique was successful in only a small fraction of the embryos and caused other unintended genetic mutations. Many in the scientific community, including prominent scientists and inventors of gene-editing technologies, have called for a worldwide moratorium on such altering of human DNA.
Although these technologies may promise new treatments for inherited genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and hemophilia, there is also concern that they could be abused to create “designer babies” or alter heritable human DNA in unexpected or dangerous ways. In the wake of the Chinese team publishing their study, the National Institutes of Health issued a statement that in the United States there are “existing legislative and regulatory prohibitions against this kind of work.”
The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine this week announced an advisory group to examine human gene editing. The group will provide advice from the scientific and medical communities that will enable the academies to guide and inform researchers, clinicians, policymakers, and the public.
The following witnesses testified today:
Dr. Victor Dzau, President, Institute of Medicine
Dr. Jennifer Doudna, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley
Dr. Elizabeth McNally, Director, Center for Genetic Medicine, Northwestern University
Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, Professor of Bioethics and Public Policy and Deputy Director for Policy and Administration of the Berman Institute of Bioethics, Johns Hopkins University
For more information on the hearing, including the witness testimony and the archived webcast, visit the Committee website.