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Global BEINGS Summit will pursue biotech guidelines

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Holly Korschun

Hundreds of experts in science, ethics, law, industry, philosophy, religion and the arts are gathering in Atlanta this month to work toward a vision and consensus on ethical and policy standards for research and development in biotechnology. That’s the ambitious agenda of the upcoming BEINGS 2015 Summit May 18-20 at the Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta.

BEINGS (which stands for Biotechnology and the Ethical Imagination: A Global Summit) will bring together the world's thought leaders to discuss highly debated issues of stem cell research, synthetic biology and other human cellular biotechnologies.

Among the luminaries weighing in on the issues will be novelist Margaret Atwood, synthetic biologist George Church, evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker and bioethicist Arthur Kaplan.

According to summit founder Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics, this assembly is needed because advances in biotechnology are moving at a dizzying pace, with profound implications, both good and bad, for the future of humanity.  (Think regrowth of missing limbs, design of hybrid animals, engineered bacteria.)

"No international consensus exists on how we should think about, direct or limit our biotechnological efforts," says Wolpe, who also serves as NASA's senior bioethicist and as editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience.

The current regulatory environment for cellular biotech also is bad for business, academic research and the public, says Wolpe. "Laws differ from state to state and nation to nation. A researcher might be allowed to carry out a cellular experiment in California but prohibited from doing that same research in Georgia.

“In Europe, members of the European Union have very different rules on biotechnology,” he says. “Germany's laws are very strict, partly in response to concerns about their history during WWII, while the UK's are very liberal. This leads to regulatory chaos related to R&D, costing businesses millions in revenue and even more to the public in lost opportunity."

At the summit, a distinguished group of speakers will help frame the issues, and delegates (scientists, policy-makers, ethicists, business leaders, NGO leaders, and creative thinkers from a host of different fields) from the top 30 biotech-producing countries of the world will help draft the consensus document, and more than 800 visitors/observers will be able to offer input.

In addition to Emory and 14 other Georgia-based partner universities, a host of hometown sponsors, including Coca-Cola, the Marcus Foundation, and the Georgia Research Alliance, are helping fund the event.

"If we are successful," says Wolpe, "we will have a new set of standards that can help shape the direction of global biotechnological advancement for years to come. With a common playbook, the biotech industry can move beyond the regulatory chaos and streamline research in ways that will ultimately benefit all of us. Register for BEINGS 2015.

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