Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – March 20, 2015

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By: Amanda Whiting, Ph.D

Biotechnology and Bioethics

Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome

With great power comes great responsibility. The inventors of a simple and effective technique for editing and making heritable changes to human DNA have called for a worldwide ban on exactly that until the scientific and ethical consequences can be fully studied and evaluated. While the technique, known as CRISPR-Cas9, can and is used in laboratory research experiments, the authors of a recent paper are concerned about the ability of physicians and scientists to push ahead into human DNA. While clinical use of this technology is highly regulated in the United States and Europe, the paper’s authors are concerned about research in countries with fewer regulations and urge that “scientists should avoid even attempting, in lax jurisdictions, germline genome modification for clinical application in humans” until the full implications “are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations.”

The ethical considerations of such a technological ability are huge – the power to edit, repair, alter or enhance any part of the human genome in a way that can be passed on to offspring would have major implications for future generations of humans. But where do you draw the line? It’s one thing to want to correct a genetic flaw leading to a known and crippling illness, or to potentially free a family from a legacy of disease. It’s another to edit a “flaw” based on one opinion or standard to be more “beautiful” or “intelligent.” There are also concerns over potential mistakes – when the DNA is accidently changed in a way not intended – as well as with the actual consequences of making a “correct” change when the entire spectrum of effects is not known or well-understood at this time. Should any editing take place at all in humans? Is the power to direct our own genome too much?

Science in the 21st century seems to follow a trend of first developing a technique, trying to understand the consequences of using that technique, and then finally developing the necessary policy. With this ban, perhaps policy will have time to catch up to our scientific ability. (Nicholas Wade, New York Times)

Federal Research Funding

Cancer institute plans new award for staff scientists

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is planning to try out a new “experiment” in funding science by targeting a new award at staff scientists, rather than graduate students, post-doctoral researchers or principle investigators (PI). In this way, NCI hopes to address some of the current flaws in biomedical funding, which encourage labs to over rely on (cheaper) trainees to do research (rather than longer term employees), creating an over-abundance of highly trained post-docs to very few actual PI positions at the end of the day.

The K05 “research specialist award” would be aimed at researchers with a masters, Ph.D., M.D., or other advanced degree and the applicant would need to be sponsored by a PI and the institution at which they would work. These 5 year, renewable rewards would cover 100% of the cost of the scientist’s salary (but not any supplies), and would be portable if the scientist chose to move to another lab. While mostly positively received, there are uncertainties such as creating even more competition for a shrinking pool of federal funding, and the worry that NCI would be swamped with applications. NCI plans to start with approximately 50 to 60 awards, totaling $5 million, over the next 18 months. Requests for applications can be expected later this year. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

March 20, 2015 at 1:06 pm

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  1. […] technologies that allow them to edit DNA sequences in human tissue with relative ease. As has been discussed in detail previously, the safety and ethical considerations of permanently altering the human […]

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