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Can You Change Your DNA? - Lal Anahmias '23

Technology has improved so much that actual babies can be genetically modified now. CRISPR gene editing (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), is a newly developed genome editing technique used to modify certain DNA segments along with the Cas9 protein. These work together to form an antiviral defense system called CRISPR-Cas9, remarkably advancing the technology used in genetic engineering. This makes it possible to assign desired qualities to new-borns by altering specific parts of their DNA. More importantly, this innovation creates numerous solutions for certain difficulties in the health industry. Whilst there have been significant improvements in the technology available to enhance research for the prevention of genetic disorders, there are also concerns about the health risks accompanied by this technology, and its impact on society.


Genome editing systems have helped make valuable progress in research for polygenic diseases, such as cancer, HIV and diabetes, that have been thought to be untreatable before. Gene editing tools are currently being examined in clinical trials for a variety of diseases, tested on animal and cell models to guarantee their safety. However, there have also been cases that required treatment via CRISPR-Cas9: “Somatic gene therapies, which involve modifying a patient’s DNA to treat or cure a disease, have been successfully used to address HIV, sickle-cell disease and transthyretin amyloidosis” (WHO: World Health Association). This technology has already made major contributions to the health field even though there are aspects of it yet to be explored. Moreover, Labiotech states, “CRISPR technology is a game-changer for cancer research and treatment as it can be used for many things, including screening for cancer drivers, identifying genes and proteins that can be targeted by cancer drugs, cancer diagnostics, and as a treatment” (Fernandez). Therefore, it can be concluded that gene modification is the leading alternative for clinical applications in the foreseeable future.


Like most treatments, however, genome editing comes with its limitations. Since there has not been enough time to observe its long-term effects on individuals, modifying the human genome may ultimately cause new health problems. Rubeis and Stager explain that altered genes may turn pathogenic (causing disease) over time: “This aggravates safety concerns, since not only one individual, but many individuals or whole populations might be affected by possible pathogenic effects of the modified genes”, they touch upon the unpredictable consequences of modified genes for future generations (“What are genome editing and CRISPR-Cas9?”). Regardless of its hypothetical impacts in the future, gene editing, specifically CRISPR, may still have undesirable effects on individuals during the procedure. Due to the manipulation of the genes’ structures, professionals have to take extreme caution and consider the possible side effects before preferring this method of treatment. The Yale School of Management, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of gene modification, explain that, “[a] series of studies have suggested that CRISPR may cause cells to lose their cancer-fighting ability, and that it may do more damage to genes than previously understood” (Mattison). Thus, the procedure must be done with extreme caution and both the healthcare professional and the patient must be aware of the side effects, thoroughly researching all options before any kind of operation. This may leave the patient in a dilemma, considering whether the benefits outweigh the risks, which isn’t the case for most conditions.


Along with the possible negative impacts of genetic modification on the health of individuals, it also affects the society, both economically and ethically. Although the potential decline in mortality rates, caused by the adaptation to diseases this technology provides, may seem favorable to most, it also has its drawbacks. The National Library of Medicine suggests that, “One of these concerns is the effect of GGE on the population level” (The National Academies 2017). If birth rates do not decrease along with death rates, the rising population will derive an increased demand in, and the reallocation of resources. It will simply not be possible to adjust all systems to meet the needs of an abruptly changing population, and resorting to imports as a temporary solution will negatively affect the economy as a whole. On another note, the unethical aspects of changing one’s DNA sequence cannot be disregarded. Genetically engineering babies, elongating lifespans, even treating diseases by manipulating the genomic sequence, may not fit people’s perceptions of righteous practices. While discussing the morality (for different groups of people) of gene editing, “Relatively few white evangelical Protestants and black Protestants say it is morally acceptable; just 16% and 15%, respectively” (Funk et al.,) states the Pew Research Center. It can be conveyed that a significant part of the population dispute the moral aspects not reached by this technique. Thus, this major development in the health field impacts societal issues in various contexts.


New technologies, making genomic modification possible, have majorly contributed to research and practice done for certain disease treatments, yet these techniques have also raised doubts about their safety and impact on society. Gene editing techniques are improving day by day, and are already used as solutions in some cases. However, like all developments, this new technology comes with its limitations, such as the risks an operation involving these techniques includes, and in a different way, its negative effects on economic growth and sustainability. When the advantages and disadvantages are compared, the benefits outweigh the risks, although many beg to differ. The enhancement of gene editing, more specifically CRISPR-Cas9, has controversial aspects to it, yet is truly a unique and practical approach to clinical practices, certainly promising a future.

Bibliography

Fernández, C. R. (2022, October 7). Eight diseases CRISPR technology could cure. Labiotech.eu. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.labiotech.eu/best-biotech/crispr-technology-cure-disease/.


Funk, C., Kennedy, B., & Sciupac, E. P. (2020, August 20). 2. U.S. public opinion on the future use of gene editing. Pew Research Center Science & Society. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2016/07/26/u-s-public-opinion-on-the-future-use-of-gene-editing/


Licholai, G. (2018, August 21). Is CRISPR Worth the risk? Yale Insights. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/is-crispr-worth-the-risk


Mitchell, P. D., Brown, Z., & McRoberts, N. (2017, December 22). Genetic Engineering and Society (GES) center. Journal of Responsible Innovation publishes 'Roadmap to Gene Drives' special issue. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://research.ncsu.edu/ges/2018/01/jri-publishes-roadmap-gene-drives-special-issue/


Rubeis, G., & Steger, F. (2018, July 16). Risks and benefits of human germline genome editing: An ethical analysis. Asian bioethics review. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7747319/.


Warneck-Silvestrin, L. (2022, June 25). The promises of CRISPR genome editing in Biomedicine. Labiotech.eu. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.labiotech.eu/interview/crispr-therapeutics-genome-editing/#:~:text=What%2 0are%20the%20advantages%20of,its%20relative%20simplicity%20and%20versatility.


Reeder, J. (2021, July 12). WHO issues new recommendations on human genome editing for the Advancement of Public Health. World Health Organization. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news/item/12-07-2021-who-issues-new-recommendations-on-human-genome-editing-for-the-advancement-of-public-health


Yang, Y., Xu, J., Ge, S., & Lai, L. (1AD, January 1). CRISPR/Cas: Advances, limitations, and applications for Precision Cancer Research. Frontiers. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2021.649896/full



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