US Public approves gene editing to improve health
During December 2015, an International Summit on Human Gene Editing was co-hosted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The organizing committee requested an ongoing international forum to gather the perspectives of various stakeholders, which included members of the general public. Its aim was to determine what the US public thought about gene therapy and gene editing, how they felt about changing the genetic characteristics of human embryos or germline cells, and how interested they were in taking genetic tests in the future. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on 17 public opinion polls that were conducted over the past three decades. Their results showed that the public was not familiar with many of the terms used in the national debate over gene therapy and gene editing. Subsequently, the pollsters used a variety of easier-to-understand terms they thought might not be scientifically precise. For example: “germline editing” was used to describe changing “the genes of unborn babies,” “a child’s genetic structure in the womb,” or “a baby’s genetic characteristics.” The overall conclusion from the authors was quite revealing:
“Most of the public favors gene therapy for clinical use in patients with serious diseases. The majority do not support gene editing in human embryos or germline cells”.
The findings of this study demonstrated an alignment between that public’s view and the conclusions of the organizing committee of the NAS summit. The authors do, however, state that public opinion could change over time as the discussions of such issues continue to evolve and as more people learn about the implications and safety of gene-editing technologies.
Kareemah Gamieldien (PhD, Physiology)
Cape Peninsula University of Technology
For full article please refer to:
Robert J. Blendon, Sc.D., Mary T. Gorski, Sc.M., and John M. Benson, M.A. 2016.The Public and the Gene-Editing Revolution. N Engl J Med, 374;15:1406-1411