Inheritable gene modification research should not proceed on humans without standards and oversight, AAAS report says

Washington, DC - September 18, 2000 - Modifying human genes that can be transmitted to offspring is neither safe nor responsible at this time, according to a special report issued today by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The report identifies technological obstacles, the complexity of the ethical and religious implications and the absence of public oversight as issues that must be addressed before further research or application of technologies is undertaken. The report calls for the immediate appointment of a public body to oversee current research and development that can alter the human germ line.

The report reflects two-and-a-half years of study by a working group of scientists, ethicists, theologians and policy analysts convened by AAAS and funded by the Greenwall Foundation. Since the project began, studies involving animals have made it clear that scientists are improving the technical capacity to manipulate genetic material for transmission to future generations.

The panel looked at both the potential benefits of human inheritable gene modification (IGM) and the significant concerns about it. Recently, researchers announced credible success in improving patient health through somatic (non-inheritable) gene therapy, signaling that years of research are about to bear fruit. Theoretically, modifying genes that are transmitted to future generations could prevent and possibly decrease the incidence of certain inherited diseases, according to the report.

Currently, however, neither the safety nor efficacy of such genetic interventions has been determined, nor are they likely to be for the foreseeable future, due to technical obstacles. According to Dr. Mark S. Frankel, director of AAAS's Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program and co-author of the report, "IGM utilizing current methods for somatic gene transfer cannot presently be carried out responsibly on humans." Consequently, the AAAS

Contact: Cate Barnett Alexander
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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