Current technical developments allow a much more easy and precise way of changing specific genes than before. New techniques of genome editing, such as the CRISPR/Cas-method, the CRISPR/Cpf1-system, zinc-finger nucleases, TALEN or meganucleases, are considered more efficient, more flexible, more precise, cheaper, more time-saving, more easily accessible, and easier to apply compared with previous methods.
Especially with the CRISPR/CAS-system, that was derived from bacteria, there are increasing possibilities in basic research and in the treatment of humans. Among others, somatic gene therapy for treating sicknesses and germline interventions to prevent hereditary illnesses can be named. While the former targets cells in the body and thereby has the potential to enable new treatments, for example against cancer, the latter method would allow changing germ cells (ovum and sperm) or embryos to keep hereditary illnesses from being passed on. Because the effects of a germline intervention are inherited by the next generation it has been considered too risky in the past; however, now it is being reconsidered in the context of the new techniques of genome editing. Alongside the possible therapeutic applications, there often are heavy speculations in the media about (genetic) enhancement to improve on the genome.
The chances and risks of these new technologies are closely related and could have far-reaching effects. The curative potential lying in the treatment of heriditary illnesses is juxtaposed with the problems of a safe application. In addition, there are many ethical, legal, and social challenges inherent in genome editing. For example, the normative questions resulting from a possible "genetisation" of humans, the consequences of a changed perception of health and sickness, but also the challenges of an idealised vision of what genome editing can actually do.
The research centre "Ethics of Genome-Editing" documents the scientific and technical developments of genome editing, and also the respective public discussion to provide and enlarge the foundations for thinking about the ethical repercussions of these developments. Here (prospective) applications in medicine are concentrated on.
Six areas of research are focused on:
  • Technical development and its dissemination
  • Transfer of scientific knowledge into the public debate
  • Communication lines within the scientific community and society
  • Rules and voluntary commitments of the scientific community
  • Statements by ethics committies and similar institutions
  • Ethical, legal, and social issues