The 18th edition for the L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science named as Laureates today in Paris two biologists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, inventors of a genetic engineering technique, called CRISPR-Cas9, which must encourage a maximum ethical vigilance due certain potential applications.
This technique, capable of modifying DNA from all cells, presents promising future perspectives, both in terms of scientific knowledge and therapeutic progress. It represents the first discoveries which bring humanity into the heart of an unprecedented scientific technological, medical, and ethical adventure.
The ethical issues related to the use of CRISPR-Cas9 require worldwide conscience awareness and firm decisions, because the temptation is so strong to use this technique on human embryos or germ cells that some countries (China and Great Britain) have already started to do so. Besides the fact that this kind of research leads to destroying embryos, the results obtained could lead to modifying the human genome to create “custom-made babies” in the future by selecting genes. Applied to gametes, to germ cells or to a formed embryo, the genetic modifications would then be indefinitely transmissible to following generations.
>> Note Expert VITA : CrispR-Cas9 : about genome modification
For Alliance VITA, the biotechnological advances which improve our knowledge and the treatment of certain pathologies represent steps in the right direction, but specific safeguards are needed for the non- instrumentalization of human embryos. Indeed using human embryos as research material leads to creating a category of living human beings sacrificed to be useful for other human beings.
There are more and more red lines not to be crossed concerning genetic heritage, manipulation of gametes and human embryos. The National Ethics Consulting Committee, OPECST (the Parliamentary Office for Scientific and Technological Assessment), the Medical and Scientific Academies have initiated discussions on these fields.
We request for the debate not to remain only in the hands of experts, but that the civilian society also be consulted. There is an urgent necessity to drive « progress » without becoming trapped with individualistic or financial strategies. Progress should be judicious and aim to improve man’s quality of life, without altering his environment, or even his very nature. Will France, as the country of Human Rights, who ratified the Oviedo Convention, be up to the challenge for the issues at stake? France should be at the ethical forefront on the use of CRISPR-Cas9 in the same manner as on other major ethical subjects such as human cloning.
For further information: >> Crispr-Cas9 explained in our 7 minute video