The World Health Organization is setting up rules and oversight for human gene editing

Yesterday, the World Health Organization wrapped up its first meeting of a new advisory committee set up to create global governance and oversight standards for human gene editing.

The committee was hastily pulled together in December after the revelation last year that a Chinese scientist had genetically modified two embryos using CRISPR technology to remove the CCR5 gene, which plays a critical role in enabling many forms of HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) to infect cells.

As soon as the Shenzhen-based geneticist He Jiankui made his results public, his work was met with universal condemnation — both inside and outside of China.

He was last seen under house arrest in a compound on the university grounds where he conducted his research as China moved retroactively to declare his work illegal.

Now the World Health Organization is taking its first steps to regulate the use of the technology.

“Gene editing holds incredible promise for health, but it also poses some risks, both ethically and medically,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, in a statement.

For the past two days the WHO’s committee of experts hashed out a few first steps for governing research around human gene editing, including a baseline agreement that working on any clinical applications would be irresponsible.

The committee also called on WHO to create a central registry for all of the research being conducted on editing the human genome, to create a database of all ongoing work.

“The committee will develop essential tools and guidance for all those working on this new technology to ensure maximum benefit and minimal risk to human health,” said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, in a statement.