Exploring public opinion on genome editing - ORION project update

Exploring public opinion on genome editing - ORION project update

ORION is a 4-year EU-funded project which aims to find ways to open up research processes, providing ways for Institute researchers to discuss and share their work and wider scientific interests. At the core of this project is co-creation, which involves collaborating with different groups of people (public, policy, industry) to come up with new ideas to support and increase the impact of scientific research.

Over the next two years the Babraham Institute, together with organisations in GermanySweden, and the Czech Republic will launch a co-creation exercise on emerging technologies. Our focus will be on genome editing techniques, since the latest of such techniques, CRISPR/Cas, may affect us all in the very near future, bringing potential risks as well as exciting opportunities to society. With this exercise we seek to learn how we can incorporate public thoughts in our work.

For example, if researchers at the Institute were to identify a gene which, if defective, could lead to problems with our immune system as we age, should genome editing be used to correct this?  Should that same genome editing then be offered as a preventative therapy to healthy individuals or for those who are at risk? These questions are examples of issues we need to address in order to allow scientific advancement to progress hand in hand with public awareness.

To support the development of the project, we organised a workshop in April, with engagement expert, Simon Burall. Simon works for Involve, an organisation that supports the UK government to plan and deliver its science programme. At the workshop, we discussed how to approach this co-creation work to bring together the four research Institute’s expertise, how to explore opinions, hopes and concerns across the four countries and how to reflect this into our work.  Our plan is to share our researchers’ expertise in genome editing with different audiences, including other academics and higher education organisations; the public sector and government; and the general public and civic societies and to facilitate open discussions. Throughout the winter, we will be running sessions with these different audiences and gathering their views on the areas of genome editing research which take place within our research organisations.
 
Our aim is that co-creating with these people will help to make research at our Institutions more inclusive by considering these broader opinions in shaping current research processes and setting prospective research questions. Furthermore, this exercise will support our scientists in considering the ethical implications of their research. This will help them to contemplate their research in the context of the values, needs and expectations of society.
 
While this project is in a preliminary stage,  if you want to  help to co-create scientific research, whether as a member of the public or civic society, a representative from a governmental administration or regulatory agency or as an expert, please contact Emma - we are due to start after the summer!