Research Ethics Roundup: First Human Embryos Edited in US, Large Scale Wellness Studies, Seeing Pregnant Women as “Vulnerable” Research Subjects, Europe’s New Animal Research Transparency Efforts

This week’s Research Ethics Roundup looks at the first known US-based attempt of changing the DNA of embryos with CRISPR, the results of a large-scale wellness study, why researchers are challenging the notion that pregnant women are a “vulnerable” research population, and why European researchers are choosing to be transparent about their research with animals.

Stem CellsFirst Human Embryos Edited in US
A research team based at Oregon Health and Science University has reportedly successfully changed the DNA of one-cell embryos, targeting a gene “associated with a significant human disease,” using CRISPR; this is the first known attempt that has taken place in the United States. It is believed that the researchers found success with a technique that involved injecting CRISPR into eggs at the time of fertilization. Earlier this year, the US National Academy of Sciences released a report supporting the use of CRISPR for eradicating serious diseases.

‘Scientific Wellness’ Study—and a Famed Biologist’s Spinoff Company—Divide Researchers
Ryan Cross reports for Science on a pilot study that explored the “scientific wellness” approach, in which scientists sought to improve subjects’ health by joining behavior coaching and activity tracking with blood, specimen, and DNA testing over a nine month period. Experts cautioned that the expensive approach did not produce novel findings; and noted that the dropoff rate for subjects’ activity tracking could indicate difficulty for other large-scale tracking studies, such as the All of Us Research Program.

Excluding Pregnant Women From Clinical Studies Because They’re Classed As ‘Vulnerable’ Is ‘Harmful’
In this Huffington Post UK article, Amy Packham discusses a new Journal of Medical Ethics commentary that argues the classification of pregnant women as vulnerable has caused them to be unnecessarily excluded from research, leading to a deficit of knowledge about how drugs affect pregnant women. Researchers believe that vulnerability concerns in pregnant women based on the potential for coercion, lack of scientific knowledge, and issues surrounding informed consent are unwarranted and that “there is a desperate need to shift the paradigm to protect pregnant women through research, not just from research.”

To Woo Public, Europe Opens Up On Animal Experiments, But US Less Transparent
In this Science article, Meredith Wadman finds that European researchers are making a proactive push to showcase their research with animals to the public after polls repeatedly showed support for such research was slipping; for example, in the United Kingdom, research universities are starting to publicize the number of animal procedures they conduct. One pro-research group, Speaking of Research, ranks institutions on their transparency measures with the hope that American institutions will follow their counterparts in Europe.