Gene editing promises to precisely modify the human DNA of embryos. This could cure genetic disorders, eradicate genes contributing to common human diseases and further research into disease. But it could also be used to enhance normal human traits like intelligence, memory and even moral dispositions. The prospect of designer humans has led scientists to call for a moratorium on this research. But what should the limits be?
- Dr Andy Greenfield, Programme Leader, Medical Research Council, Harwell
- Dr Christopher Gyngell, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford
- Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, Group Leader and Head of the Division of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics, The Francis Crick Institute
- Professor Alison Murdoch, Professor of Reproductive Medicine/Gynaecologist at the Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life/Newcastle University
- Professor Julian Savulescu, Co-Director, Oxford Martin Programme on Collective Responsibility for Infectious Disease and Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
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About the panel
Andy Greenfield has been a Programme Leader at the Medical Research Council’s Harwell Institute since 1996 and his lab’s research focuses on the developmental genetics of sex determination. He is interested in so-called disorders (or differences) of sex development (DSD). He uses genome editing techniques in his research programme.
Since 2009 he has been a member of the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) and chairs its License Committee, which recently approved the first UK use of CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology in human embryos; he also chaired the most recent scientific assessment of the safety and efficacy of mitochondrial donation techniques – also known as ‘3-person IVF’. He is a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and chaired its 2016 working group examining ethical issues arising from the use of genome editing in a range of organisms and contexts.
Dr Christopher Gyngell is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow with the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. His research interests lie primarily in bioethics, moral theory, and the philosophy of health and disease. He is currently working on a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship funded project titled "Selecting, Creating and Modifying Embryos", which will investigate the ethical and legal implications of new reproductive technologies, such as the gene editing technique CRISPR.
Chris is also a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Neuroethics at the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics working as part of The Oxford Loebel Lectures and Research Programme (OLLRP). He recently completed a PhD thesis at the Australian National University entitled, "Human Enhancement and Human Diversity: The need for a coordinated approach to enhancement technologies".
Professor Robin Lovell-Badge is Senior group Leader and Head of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at The Francis Crick Institute. He obtained his BSc in zoology at University College, London in 1975. He obtained his PhD in embryology at University College London in 1978, carrying out mouse stem cell and embryo research with Martin Evans. After postdoctoral research in Cambridge, also with Martin Evans, and then in Paris, he established his independent laboratory in 1982 at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Mammalian Development Unit, University College, London, directed by Anne McLaren.
In 1988 he moved to the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (now part of the Francis Crick Institute), becoming Head of Division in 1993. He has had longstanding interests in the biology of stem cells, in how genes work in the context of embryo development, and how decisions of cell fate are made. Major themes of his current work include sex determination, development of the nervous system and pituitary, and the biology of stem cells within the early embryo, the CNS and the pituitary. He is also very active in both public engagement and policy work, notably around stem cells, genetics, human embryo and animal research, and in the ways science is regulated and disseminated.
He was elected a member of EMBO in 1993, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1999, and a fellow of the Royal Society in 2001. He is also a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Hong Kong (2009-2015) and the President of the Institute of Animal Technologists. He is also a member of the steering committee of the Hinton Group, a member of the US National Academies of Sciences Study Committee on Human Genome Editing, and a co-opted member of the HFEA’s Scientific and Clinical Advances Advisory Committee.
Professor Alison Murdoch is Professor of Reproductive Medicine/Gynaecologist at the Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life/Newcastle University.
Alison Murdoch established The Newcastle Fertility Centre at Life which is now recognised as one of the leading NHS fertility centres in the UK. The clinic provides a full range of treatments for subfertility including IVF, sperm and egg donation.
The principal research interests in the Department relate to the molecular processes which control cell division in the earliest stages of human development (oocyte meiosis and early embryo cell division). Recent successful research to reduce the risk of transmission of mitochondrial disease to the baby has led to UK legislation to enable the translation of the techniques to clinical practice. Her principal role in the team is the ethical and regulatory issues related to embryo research and to the donation of embryos and eggs for research.
Professor Murdoch is past Chair of the British Fertility Society. She has been closely involved with the Department of Health and the regulators in the setting of clinical and laboratory standards in this field. She is a member of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs and a past member of the Nuffield Council of Bioethics.
Professor Julian Savulescu is Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics; Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Geoengineering and Oxford Martin Programme on Collective Responsibility for Infectious Disease; and Principal Investigator for the Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship.
Julian's areas of research include: the ethics of genetics, especially predictive genetic testing, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, prenatal testing, behavioural genetics, genetic enhancement, gene therapy. Research ethics, especially ethics of embryo research, including embryonic stem cell research. New forms of reproduction, including cloning and assisted reproduction. Medical ethics, including end of life decision-making, resource allocation, consent, confidentiality, decision-making involving incompetent people, and other areas. Sports ethics. The analytic philosophical basis of practical ethics. Julian is a founder member of the Hinxton Group.