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Blinded by Technology? Genome Editing for Blindness and the Articulation of an Off-Target Problem

Fri, August 31, 9:00 to 10:30am, ICC, E5.1


CRISPR-Cas9 has emerged as one of the key genome engineering technologies. As excitement about its prospect for gene therapy and drug development increases, so do safety and regulatory concerns over genome editing experimentation and its commercial applications. This paper examines how a group of genome editing scientists in South Korea has sought to apply the CRISPR technology for gene therapy for ARB (Angiogenesis-Related Blindness) amid safety concerns and regulatory uncertainties. We in particular analyze how Dr. Kim Jeong Hun’s team at Seoul National University has articulated an “off-target” problem as one of the most critical safety and regulatory issues over CRISPR. His improvement of the efficiency and specificity of the CRISPR technology in editing a gene related to ARB has been not just presented to a technology solution, but also promoted to a solution to key legal and ethical issues surrounding CRISPR-enabled gene therapy. We will highlight the process through which the scientists mobilize counter-arguments, developed across disciplines (biomedicine and GMOs), national boundaries, and the academia-industry divide, in order to address these key issues. By examining how his team has developed technical solutions, mobilized patient groups, and developed legal strategies, we will discuss how a certain set of the technocratic impulses in South Korea has crystallized around the CRIPSR technology.