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Eminent scientist warns against gene-editing of human embryos

14 January 2016

In Vitro Fertilisation

An eminent scientist has warned against allowing the gene-editing of human embryos.

Dr James Sherley, one of the world's leading adult stem cell scientists, warned against the new proposals as the UK's embryology regulator considers today an application to allow human gene-editing for the first time in the UK. At present such embryos would by law have to be destroyed.

Dr Sherley described the research as "unethical" and "unscientific". He said that, as a scientist, he "understands the curiosity and ambition of investigators who wish to undertake these frontier studies in human biology," but said that such studies do not "make destroying innocent humans permissible. Embryos are living human beings. Gene-editing research as proposed in the UK would ultimately kill every human embryo whom it edited."

Dr Sherley pointed out that the proposed gene-editing was a move further down the unethical path started by human embryonic stem cell research, which also kills embryos in the process. That path was leading to the temptation in the future to create 'designer babies', he said, arguing: “It is a lot harder to stop a train once it is speeding down the tracks”.

Pointing to this future danger, Dr Sherley added: "The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) should consider the longer-term consequences of approval of human embryo gene-editing research. Gene-edited babies would be exposed to many life-long risks without the possibility of their consent.

"The ethical, moral, and scientific thing to do would be to ban this research altogether", as well as embryonic stem cell research, concluded Dr Sherley.

Dr Sherley is a specialist in the study of stem cells which can be derived from adults and from other ethical sources, such as the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies.

For more detailed comments or to request an interview with SPUC, please contact Anthony Ozimic, SPUC's Director of Communications, on:

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