COVID-19 and Gene Editing – Ethical and Legal Considerations Investigated
A legal academic at UKZN, Dr Sheetal Soni is on a mission to ensure research and the development of treatment and vaccines in the fight against COVID-19 are not taking place at the expense of ethical and legal standards.
A bioethics, medical and reproductive technology law expert and member of the Association for Responsible Research in Genome Editing (ARRIGE), Soni is using media platforms and peer-reviewed journals to share her research on the ethical and legal considerations inherent in genome editing as an option to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her article: COVID-19 and Gene Editing: Ethical and Legal Considerations, discusses three ways in which the CRISPR genome editing tool could be used as way to fight the coronavirus.
Earlier this year Soni was profiled in The CRISPR Journal - the only peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the science and applications of gene editing - and wrote on her interest in CRISPR research as a legal academic and what this research means for Africa.
‘There is already research being done with regard to editing the COVID-19 genome, however this is still in preliminary stages. Many CRISPR laboratories began to focus their research on COVID-19 and have developed CRISPR-based testing kits,’ said Soni.
Through her research, Soni explores how the CRISPR genome editing tool could be used as a way to fight the virus, including the process of editing the genome of COVID-19 in order to render it incapable of infecting human cells. Investigations have also taken place into how it could be used as an alternative way to test for COVID-19 infection, or how it could be used to edit ‘our own genome in order to genetically immunize us against infection.
‘The possibility of editing the human genome carries a myriad of ethical and legal implications and may conflict with current national and international ethical and legal policy,’ said Soni. ‘Gene editing is associated with a range of ethical issues such as safety, equal access and consent. Bioethicists and researchers believe that gene editing in humans must be proven safe before it can be offered as a treatment option. There is also the issue of equal access to treatment, which must be considered.’
Words: Thandiwe Jumo