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Stem Cells and Society Workshop: Planning for the Future of Gene Editing

Recent high-profile rulings on mitochondrial donation and the development of CRISPR technology have reawakened the debate around gene editing. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Royal Society have convened working groups and projects to discuss this important issue.

In December 2015, an international summit on human gene editing involving the National Academies of Science from the United States, United Kingdom and China made recommendations for research and agreed to work together to consider its implications.

Cambridge science is at the forefront of this technology. Two of the university’s strategic research initiatives, in Stem Cells and Public Policy respectively, convened a one-day workshop in January 2016 as an opportunity to catalyse Cambridge’s response to the opportunities offered by stem cell research, and to engage with relevant stakeholders to consider hopes and fears surrounding gene editing.

The workshop brought together a select group of scientists, bioethicists, social scientists and policy makers to discuss the opportunities that may emerge from gene editing technology, the ethical and legal implications of developments, and to discuss what appropriate policy measures need to be in place in order to support the appropriate evolution of gene editing technology.

Whilst the biggest application of CRISPR technology remains in basic research, the different areas covered by gene editing – from human stem cells and gene therapy, to diseases in animals and genetically modified crops – show its huge potential.

Our report discusses some of the specific ethical, legal and policy issues relating to gene editing in human stem cells, including further international regulation and agreement on research into the human genome, and the type of policy development required around gene editing, including assessing both the opportunities and risks it presents.

 To read the Stem Cells and Society Workshop report, click here.

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