Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Moratorium on Possible Genetic Alteration of Human Race on Agenda Tomorrow at California Stem Cell Agency

The select panel that helps the $3 billion California stem cell agency set  research standards meets tomorrow and Friday in Los Angeles, its first session since 2013.

The agenda appears modest but it does include a discussion involving possible genetic modifications to the human race and the germ line letter signed by Nobel prize winner David Baltimore, among many others.

The starting point for the discussion is a statement by the International Society for Stem Cell Research that said,
“The International Society for Stem Cell Research calls for a moratorium on attempts at clinical application of nuclear genome editing of the human germ line to enable more extensive scientific analysis of the potential risks of genome editing and broader public discussion of the societal and ethical implications.” 
Scientist Paul Knoepfer of UC Davis has an ongoing look at the issues on his blog, ipscell.com. The latest is a March 29 piece headlined “Genetically Modified Humans Now Inevitable?” Knoepfler wrote, 
“Rumors are swirling that upwards of four papers reporting production of GM(genetically modified) human embryos are in various stages of review at high-profile journals, sparking a sense of urgency for some kind of steps to deal with this new reality. Could these papers report germ line correction of the CTFR mutation in cystic fibrosis or of a BRCA1 mutation? Were these GM human embryos used to make embryonic stem cell lines or are they cryopreserved?
“The prime concern now is that GM human embryos could in principle be rather simply turned into GM humans at any one of thousands of IVF clinics around the world with a surrogate mother. That simple technological step of going from GM human embryo to GM human being of course invokes incredibly complicated, thorny legal, bioethical and societal issues.”
Although Baltimore once served on the stem cell agency’s governing board and the agency has been active with the international stem cell research group, it is not clear that it will do anything in regard to a moratorium.

The agency board has shied away from such matters since 2011, when Robert Klein left as its chairman. He often pressed for the agency to take on legislative and other policy matters during his tenure.

The moratorium is not scheduled to be officially voted on so legally it would difficult for the standards panel to do anything significant. But the group could make an expression of sentiment and ask that the full board consider the matter.

The standards group’s last meeting was Oct. 1, 2013, according to the CIRM Web site. However, it was quite active in the early days of the agency when it was formulating the first comprehensive stem cell research regulations in the country

The public can attend tomorrow’s session, which beings at noon PDT in Century City in Los Angeles, and speak to the committee on any matter. 

Here is a link to a list of its members. Its chairman is Bernie Lo of UC San Francisco
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