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Anticipatory Ethics and The Use of CRISPR in Humans

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1. Auflage, 2022

The future of gene editing in humans will involve the use of CRISPR. How we think about the combination of the scientific, ethical, and moral aspects of this technology is paramount to the success or failure of CRISPR in humans. Unfortunately, the current scientific discussion around CRISPR in humans has left ethics trailing behind due to the rapid pace of innovation. New modes of ethics and stakeholder participation are needed to keep pace with rapid scientific advances and provide the necessary policy and ethical frameworks necessary to help CRISPR flourish as an important health care tool to treat human disease. This requires intense interdisciplinary collaboration and discussion between scientists and philosophers, policymakers and legal scholars, and the public.

Dr. Michael W. Nestor (a neuroscientist who actively uses CRISPR in pre-clinical research) and Professor Richard Wilson (a philosopher who focuses on anticipatory ethics) set out to develop a new ethical approach considering the use of CRISPR in human targeted therapies. The field of anticipatory ethics is uniquely poised to tackle questions in fast-evolving technical areas where the pace of innovation outstrips traditional philosophical approaches. Furthermore, because of its 'anticipatory' nature, this type of analysis provides the opportunity to look ahead and into the future concerning potential uses of CRISPR in humans, uses that are not currently possible.


Nestor and Wilson collaborate both scientifically and philosophically in this book to forecast potential outcomes as the scientific and medical community goes beyond using CRISPR to correct genes that underlie diseases where a single gene is involved. Instead, Nestor and Wilson envision CRISPR in complex, multigenic disorders with a specific focus on the use of CRISPR to edit genes involved in mental traits like IQ or other cognitive characteristics. They argue that the use of CRISPR to modify genes that are potentially important for mental traits represents a particular category for special consideration from scientists, policymakers, the public, and other stakeholders. 


Nestor and Wilson explain why using CRISPR to alter mental states is very different from treating a disease like cancer by combining the latest scientific advancements with anticipatory ethics and philosophical phenomenology. Their analysis considers the role that mental states play in personhood and the lived experience-as genes that can change mental/cognitive attributes like IQ have wide-ranging effects on the lived experience in ways that are categorically different from other attributes.


This book was written to set a non-exhaustive framework for shared understanding and discussion across disciplines and appeal to scientists and non-scientists alike. This appeal is made inclusively, inviting all stakeholders to engage in active dialogue about the appropriate context for using CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies in humans. It provides policy analysis and recommendations for assuring the most inclusive, equitable, and ethically sound use of CRISPR in humans, concerning its positive potential to treat mental conditions like depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, autism, and the potential to induce other cognitive enhancements.

Michael W. Nestor received his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from The University of Maryland, School of Medicine and has dual certificates in Regulatory Affairs-Medical Devices and Pharmaceuticals from RAPS and a certificate in Project Management from the University of California, Irvine. He completed postdoctoral fellowships at the National Institutes of Health and The New York Stem Cell Foundation, where he was also a Staff Scientist. Concurrently, Michael was an NIH IRACDA Fellow at Rutgers University, focused on teaching in minority-serving institutions and helping increase the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in science. Dr. Nestor was awarded an American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science and Technology Policy Fellowship and served in the executive branch.

A neuroscientist with 20 years of research experience, Dr. Nestor was Director of Neural Stem Cell Research at The Hussman Institute for Autism, where he led his laboratory studying autism by creating brain organoids from human induced pluripotent stem cells. His lab developed multiplexed high-throughput CRISPR and drug-screening platforms using human stem cell derived brain organoids. Michael ran his own human stem cell consulting company, Synapstem, and acted as a venture advisor to the UM Momentum Fund and the Abell Foundation and as Co-Chair of the Neural Stem Cell Working Group at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine. 


Richard L. Wilson teaches philosophy and ethics in the Philosophy and Computer and Information Sciences Departments at Towson University. He is a Senior Research Scholar in the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics at the University of Baltimore. Professor Wilson specializes in Applied Ethics and has taught a wide variety of Applied Ethics Classes. As a specialist in Applied Ethics, he has taught courses and published a variety of books and articles in Engineering Ethics, Computer Science Ethics, Biomedical Ethics, Business Ethics, Media Ethics, and Environmental Ethics. Recent publications include a book, Glossary of Cyber Warfare, Cyber Crime and Cyber Security, with a variety of papers published including 3D Printing and Anticipatory Business EthicsAn Anticipatory Ethical Analysis of Offensive Cyberspace OperationsThe Use of Facial Recognition in China's Social Credit System: An Anticipatory Ethical AnalysisAnticipatory Medical Ethics: Pharmaceuticals and Nanotechnology, and The Ethics of Autonomy and Lethality. His most recent publications include: Anticipatory Ethics as a Method for Teaching Engineering Ethics in the ASEE Proceedings and Smart Cities and Cyber Security: Ethical and Anticipated Ethical Concerns.

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