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June 16, 2015

Subcommittee Discusses Gene Editing Technologies

(Washington, DC) – Today the Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing to discuss gene editing technologies, the need to develop a framework for their use in humans, and the need for U.S. leadership.

Ranking Member Dan Lipinski (D-IL) said, “I am pleased we convened this hearing to learn more about the science behind these technologies as well as how the United States can be a leader in addressing the safety and ethical concerns associated with them. The National Academies has launched a major initiative around human gene editing technologies, just as in the 1970s when the National Academies played a similar role dealing with the then-new biotechnology developments. I look forward to hearing more about what they are planning to do concerning these new gene editing technologies. I also look forward to learning more about the new applications made possible by this research.”

New gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR/Cas9, can be thought of as “search and replace” tools for DNA. They use “molecular scissors” to create a break in DNA in order to delete and often insert new DNA. Since these new gene editing technologies are more precise and easier to use than earlier generation technologies, they have become powerful research tools, and have the potential to lead to treatments and possibly cures for genetic diseases.

The hearing was prompted by a paper by a Chinese research group that used CRISPR/Cas9 to edit non-viable human embryos. That research called attention to the scientific and ethical issues with these technologies.

Members and witnesses had a wide-ranging discussion on the issues. They discussed the research and applications of gene editing technologies, such as their potential to cure disease. They also discussed the ethical, legal, and regulatory issues. All witnesses expressed the need for federal investments in fundamental research. Dr. Doudna explained how fundamental research in bacteria led to the development of CRISPR/Cas 9 long before there was a known commercial or human health application.

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) emphasized the other uses of gene editing in her statement for the record, “Although today we are discussing human applications, we should not forget that these same technologies also have great potential for use in energy and agriculture. Gene editing could be used to create biofuels and new crops. Responsible applications of these technologies could lead to significant economic growth if the U.S. takes the lead in research and transferring that research to the private sector.”