Clinical OMICS

SEP-OCT 2018

Healthcare magazine for research scientists, labs, pathologists, hospitals, cancer centers, physicians and biopharma companies providing news articles, expert interviews and videos about molecular diagnostics in precision medicine

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Page 12 of 51 September/October 2018 Clinical OMICs 11 News Do Americans Favor Gene Editing? It Depends T hree-quarters of Americans favor the use of gene editing to help treat a serious health condition, but their approval of other uses including reducing the likelihood of disease or to improve intelligence are signifi- cantly lower, according to a new sur- vey from the Pew Research Center. Marnie Gelbart, Ph.D., is the director of programs at the Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd,) which has a mission to increase awareness and conversation about the benefits and ethical, legal, and social implications of personal genetics. She told Clinical OMICs that these types of studies are important to show how nuanced peo- ple's perspectives are when it comes to genetic editing. However, Gelbart notes that "what these data do not capture is the fluidity in how people think about these issues." During pgEd workshops, where people engage in discussions on the same issues sampled in this survey, she notes that "many people really wrestle with these issues." For example, many Americans (72%) say that changing an unborn baby's genetic characteristics to treat a serious disease or condition is an appropriate use of medical tech- nology. Twenty-seven percent feel that this is taking medical technology too far. When the question shifts slightly to reducing the risk of a serious condition, the number of people saying that it is appropriate drops to 60% with 38% saying it would be tak- ing technology too far. Where the acceptance of gene editing seems to shift is in making a baby more intelligent, with only 19% of people saying that this is an appropriate use of technology and the vast majority (80%) saying that this is taking it too far. Similarly, many people (65%) said that it would be tak- ing medical technology too far if the development of gene editing involved testing on human embryos, something that experts indicate is probably necessary. The data come from 2,537 responses, which were further separated based on religious commitment, gender, levels of science knowledge, and familiarity with gene editing. Of those high in religious commitment, 46% say that gene editing is appropriate to reduce a baby's risk of disease later in life. However, 73% of people low in religious commit- ment say that gene editing is appropriate for the same rea- son. Those numbers are 57% and 82% for treating a serious disease or condition the baby would have at birth. Not surprisingly, a large number (87%) of those who are highly religious do not think that it is appropriate to use human embryos to test gene editing; whereas 55% of those with a low religious commitment consider it appropriate. These differences, when stratified for religiosity, tend to per- sist even when the data are controlled for other factors such as gender, race and ethnicity, age, and education. A second finding of the study was in the perception of gene editing, with more people anticipating negative rather than positive effects on society, something that did not sur- prise Gelbart. She frequently hears the concerns of people in communities of vastly different socioeconomic status. She adds, "given that healthcare is not uniformally distributed, how will gene editing layer on top of existing disparities?" —Julianna LeMieux, Ph.D. triloks / Getty Images

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