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NIH's RAC REJECTS "BLANKET PROHIBITION" OF rDNA MAMMALIAN GENE TRANSFER

Executive Summary

NIH's RAC REJECTS "BLANKET PROHIBITION" OF rDNA MAMMALIAN GENE TRANSFER research by a unanimous vote of 22-0. At an Oct. 29 meeting, the Recombinant DNA Advisory Cmte. (RAC) concluded that "both the importance of this class of experiments in current scientific research, and long-term possibilities for treatment of human and animal diseases, and the development of more efficient food sources makes it a moral imperative that we strongly oppose the blanket prohibition." The cmte.'s vote on the issue was in response to a request by Foundation on Economic Trends President Jeremy Rifkin that NIH prohibit any research involving interspecies transfer of genetic material. Rifkin opposed NIH funding of a University of Pennsylvania experiment in which human growth hormone genes are injected into sheep and pig embryos. The foundation and the Humane Society have filed suit against Dept. of Agriculture participation in the research. Rifkin asked the cmte. to develop "detailed criteria" for determining which genes in the human gene pool are permissible for transfer to other species and which are not. Cmte. member Susan Gottesman stressed that laboratory scientists are currently only engaged in transferring single genes from one organism to another. "The idea that if we put a gene from a human or from somebody else into a mouse, that we somehow change the whole species is utter nonsense," she said. "What we are talking about is a very small scale experiment to look at . . . particular animals and understand what they do." Rifkin also expressed concern that a RAC working group draft on human gene therapy issues focuses only on somatic cell gene therapy and not on germ line therapy. Rifkin speculated that "some correlation between certain somatic gene experiments and some effect on the germ line or the reproductive cell" may exist. "This being the case, it seems to me inappropriate to move ahead, knowing that speculation is possible, and try to isolate these two categories," he said. Natl. Heart, Lung and Blood Institute Molecular Hematology Laboratory Chief French Anderson stressed that the probable "first case" for human gene therapy will be patients with adenosine deaminase, an immunodeficiency disease. Such patients are "ideally suited" for gene therapy because they can be "cured by bone marrow manifestation," he said. Anderson, a consultant to the RAC working group on gene therapy, discusses the prospects for human gene therapy in the Oct. 26 issue of Science.

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