Human gene therapy is still risky, but trials should go on except human genetic enhancement, scientists advised on the Human Genome Meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The April 19-22 annual meeting was held by the Human Genome Organization (HUGO), an international organization of scientists involved in the Human Genome Project (HGP) to map and sequence the human genome.
Presenting draft recommendations on the ethical challenges of human gene therapy, the Ethic Committee of the HUGO called for a clear distinction between therapy, the treatment of disease by adding genes to a cell, and enhancement, use of the same techniques to alter heritable traits.
"We want to emphasize that gene therapy is still an experimental therapy that carries risk," said Kaare Berg, vice-president of the committee. Backing further research, Berg called for firm regulation and efforts to educate the public about the benefits and risks.
Berg said that germline gene therapy, in which gene changes will be inherited, "lacks a sound scientific basis" and "it is risk taking for future generations and ethically unacceptable."
The committee's recommendations came as several gene therapy tests have got positive results, which began to allay raging fears aroused by the death of a US teenager in 1999 after his involvement in such a trial for a rare metabolic disorder.