What is the difference between somatic cell and germline cell genome editing?

Somatic cells are cells whose genetic material cannot be passed on to future generations of people. The vast majority of cells in the human body are somatic cells. Examples include the tissues that make up our skin, muscles, lungs, liver, and heart, as well as blood cells. The current therapeutic applications of genome editing focus on somatic cells.

Germline cells (or germ cells) are cells whose genetic information may be passed down to future generations of people if they resulted in a pregnancy that came to term. Human germline cells are sperm or egg cells, embryos, or reproductive stem cells.

All preclinical and clinical testing performed by EuropaBio member companies using genome editing for the treatment of genetically-based diseases are being delivered into somatic cells only.

Gene editing research with germline cells is strictly prohibited in many geographies worldwide, such as the EU, US, Japan. It is critical that the current state of knowledge of genome editing is improved before clinical testing with heritable (germline) human cells leading to heritable genetic changes is carried out.