Expect More CRISPR Advances (and Hype) in 2018

Jan 1, 2018

This year’s top stories in biomedicine bring science and social values head-to-head:

  • Multiple teams this year announced that they had used CRISPR/CAS9 gene editing technology to modify human embryos. Although some of the claims about efficiency and accuracy are under debate, the research community is undeniably moving ahead with controversial work that even many fellow scientists say should be subject to better rules and regulations than currently exist.

  • The National Football League has tried to downplay the danger of concussions, but several studies this year linked repeated head trauma – and specifically football – to a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). With some researchers saying there is no safe level of play, the question is increasingly whether kids should be allowed to play football, or any sport with high concussion risk.

Bioethicist Art Caplan of New York University says in 2018, scientists should clarify what they hope to do with genetic therapy, and what they will not do. He says there was a lot of CRISPR hype in 2017 as companies "hung out a shingle" hoping that investors would pay attention. 

Caplan also says the National Football League has yet to fully reckon with the problem of CTE. There will be more to watch as research on brain injury continues in the coming year.