Public support for life-saving genetic-intervention: CERA

Gene editing uses a naturally-occurring phenomenon known as CRISPR/Cas to effectively cut and paste DNA inside living cells. The technique, which is still in experimental stages, could enable researchers to edit a person’s genetic code, deleting faulty genes and potentially replacing th with new correct versions, thereby preventing an individual from developing deadly or debilitating diseases.Led by Assoc Prof Alex Hewitt and Assoc Prof Alice Pébay, the results of the survey were published on 9 May in Cell St Cell. Data were collected from the over 12,000 people across 185 countries and the results showed that 59 per cent of respondents agreed with the use of gene editing to cure life-threatening or debilitating disease, with a only about 10 per cent disagreeing with this application.Gene editing could also be used for non-health related purposes, for instance to genetically alter an individual’s characteristics such as physical appearance or athletic ability.Less than one third of respondents agreed with using the technology for that purpose, with 30 per cent being unsure or neutral and 43 per cent disagreeing.Gene editing could be undertaken in adults or children, but it could also possible to genetically edit bryos during IVF. Editing the genetic code of an bryo would mean the changes would be passed on to the next generation.“Some scientists have raised ethical concerns with bryonic editing, because they believe it is medically unnecessary and raises the prospect of ‘designer babies’,” explained Assoc Prof Pébay. “Interestingly, our survey respondents did not show a marked difference in their levels of support for editing an adult or child versus an bryo.”The survey was conducted via social media and attracted participants from all over the world. The average age of the respondents was 24. Previous public opinion surveys that have included an older dographic have shown less support for gene editing, suggesting that younger people may be more open-minded when it comes to bracing erging scientific technologies.“We believe that scientists, regulators and the public must to be involved in this conversation. The technology is developing faster than we could have imagined. It’s not a matter of if these things will be possible, but when,” Assoc. Prof Hewitt said.“The application of this technology will affect all of humankind. The public needs to understand the risks and potential benefits of different applications of gene editing in a way that allows everyone to make an informed opinion. Our study was an initial attpt to engage people globally on what is shaping up as this century’s most exciting development in biology.”The Centre for Eye Research Australia is an independent medical research institute established in 1996 and which has grown into Australia’s leading eye-research institute.It is are closely affiliated with ophthalmology at the University of Melbourne, Department of Surgery, and is co-located with the Department at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. That three-way partnership between CERA, the university and the hospital is the key to the successful translation of research from the bench to the bedside.

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