Webinar: Gene Drives

Thursday, July 28, 2016 at 3 – 5 pm Eastern

Watch the webinar recording below


Kevin Esvelt, Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab – Massachusetts Institute of Technology. View bio (view slides)

Kevin Esvelt is an assistant professor of MIT and leader of the Sculpting Evolution group at the MIT Media Lab, which specializes in developing tools to reshape populations and ecosystems. An evolutionary engineer, Esvelt received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2010 for inventing a synthetic microbial ecosystem for rapidly evolving useful biomolecules. As a Technology Development Fellow of the Wyss Institute, he helped pioneer the development of a powerful new method of genome engineering based on CRISPR/Cas9, an enzymatic scalpel that can be programmed to cut DNA at any desired sequence. In 2014, Esvelt and his team were the first to outline how CRISPR could be used to build evolutionarily stable “gene drives” capable of altering wild populations of sexually reproducing organisms. Recognizing the potential implications of a unilateral method of reshaping shared ecosystems, he and his colleagues detailed ways to control, block, or even reverse changes made by gene drives while emphasizing the importance of laboratory safeguards to ensure they do not accidentally escape the laboratory. To set an example for future research in this field, they chose to reveal their findings before experimenting with CRISPR gene drives in the laboratory so that public notification and discussion could guide research and safeguards. There is little precedent for deciding whether, when, and how to use “collective” technologies whose deployment can affect entire communities. In addition to exploring ecological and evolutionary engineering, Esvelt seeks to establish a new model of open and responsive science in which revealed community expectations guide the development of powerful technologies with shared impacts.

Elizabeth Heitman, Associate Professor, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society – Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Cochair of Academies Gene Drives Report. View bio (view slides)

Elizabeth Heitman, PhD, was cochair of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s committee on Gene Drives on the Horizon: Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values. She is currently an Associate Professor of Medical Ethics in the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Heitman’s work focuses on cultural issues and international aspects of ethics in medicine, biomedical science, and public health. Her research examines international standards of research ethics, education in the responsible conduct of research, and trainees’ awareness of professional and cultural norms. She is co-director of the research ethics education program “Formação Colaborativa na Ética em Pesquisa (Collaborative Research Ethics Education)”, sponsored by the NIH Fogarty International Center, with colleagues from the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique. Dr. Heitman previously directed a similar program with the Hospital Nacional de Niños in San José, Costa Rica and was PI of the National Science Foundation-funded study “Research Integrity in the Education of International Science Trainees.” Dr. Heitman leads the research ethics activities of the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR), and coordinates VICTR’s educational programs in the responsible conduct of research. She is a member of the National Academy of Science’s (NAS) Board on Life Sciences, and its Standing Committee on Educational Institutes for Teaching Responsible Science. Through the NAS, Dr. Heitman has served as a faculty member in international faculty development projects on responsible science in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. She recently chaired the NAS Committee on the Elaboration of a National Curriculum in Bioethics and Responsible Conduct of Science for Algeria, advising the Algerian Ministry of Higher Education. Since 2009 she has been a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Science Ethics Initiative with the China Association for Science and Technology, and has contributed to AAAS’s work on biosafety/ biosecurity education since 2008. Dr. Heitman received her PhD in Religious Studies in 1988 from Rice University’s joint program in biomedical ethics with the University of Texas – Houston Medical School.

The webinar is an information-gathering meeting for the committee in which the speakers are invited to provide input to the committee. The webinar will be recorded and posted on this page.