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Medical Breakthroughs

- September 15, 2017
Can regulators and ethicists keep up with advances?
Featured Report

The breakthroughs seem like science fiction: editing genes of human embryos to erase disease; controlling a computer cursor with one's thoughts; enabling paralyzed people to walk by fitting them with a robotic “exoskeleton”; using the body's immune system to cure cancer. As fantastic as such advances may seem, however, they are rapidly becoming reality. Yet, medical advances face big hurdles, including steep development costs. President Trump has proposed a 22 percent cut in the National Institutes of Health budget, which funds basic medical research, though Congress wants an increase. Congress also wants the Food and Drug Administration to speed up its regulatory review of new drugs and devices, but some consumer advocates worry that could result in unsafe products. Meanwhile, safety and ethical concerns about certain procedures, especially genetic editing of human embryos to prevent diseases from passing to new generations, are prompting calls for an urgent national discussion on how such technologies should be regulated.

Pushing the Limits

Gene editing is highly controversial when used in human embryos.

Funding Issues

Experts worry that industry money influences clinical trials.

1900s–1980sMedical regulatory processes are established in the United States.
1990s–2000sScientists make advances in stem cell and human genome research.
2010s-PresentMedical advances occur at unprecedented pace.

Should Americans fear genetic engineering of human embryos?


Amy Webb
CEO, The Future Today Institute.


Arthur L. Caplan
Professor of Bioethics and Founding Director, Division of Medical Ethics, New York University School of Medicine.


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