Susan Evans: The Myth That We Can Do Anything We Want To People With Gene Editing

Let’s talk about the age that most people recognize as adulthood. You will recall that before you were born, the mechanisms that produced human life were stored at the DNA level inside each cell…

Susan Evans: The Myth That We Can Do Anything We Want To People With Gene Editing

Let’s talk about the age that most people recognize as adulthood. You will recall that before you were born, the mechanisms that produced human life were stored at the DNA level inside each cell in your body. That’s why you were last seen here, you were either laying down or about to start shedding those cells. Before you were born, however, your genomes came into being first.

Whether you’ve heard it or not, the world’s geneviral-human gene transplantation program is now underway. However, these kind of gene transplants were always meant to treat grave and fatal diseases. The idea is that these donors’ cells are then injected into their recipients. That way, donor cells migrate into the recipients’ bodies to replace the diseased cells, and blood flow is restored. For most diseases, these experimental programs are a stopgap measure.

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In previous HIV testing programs, however, one of the goals was to eliminate the risk of transmitting the virus to other people. In order to do that, scientists were compelled to find a way to create HIV-free cells. That was going to be a tall order. This is where gene editing comes in handy. It is one of several potential uses for genetic modification that scientists have been pursuing.

If you don’t think of gene editing as a computer, then you’re missing out on a great opportunity. In the computer world, when you have had a bad experience with a certain software, like a boss you disliked or a programming error that caused your computer to fail, you could just “bug out” of your computer. This was the crux of George Colony’s book, Hacked. When I read that, I thought: Imagine if we could just “bug out” of our own parts of our bodies.

Genetically modifying cells creates a number of new challenges. First, consider the mechanics of a new host. A certain facility that has been used in past HIV testing programs is called a Dolly Station. This enables scientists to clone one adult cell and combine it with the DNA of the person who hoped to get that gene-edited. That cell is the new donor. In this example, we are not using regular cells from the donor’s body. It is created here in a lab through a scientific concoction. In order to replace the donor cell with the gene-edited one, scientists must carefully perform genetic changes to the host cell.

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From a technical perspective, this project is no easy feat. Each step has a myriad of consequences on how these changes will propagate. This information must be given out in a gentle manner, although inadvertently or through evil intent, there is always the potential for the wrong cells to be received. Biotechnology researcher and professor Erik Thorson conducted a study that analyzed a type of hepatitis C virus. When Thorson pre-emptively showed infected cells to a different virus, the natural response of the infected cells was to fight the new host by infecting its target. The concern here is that using experimental practices to eradicate the infectious agent without knowing the unintended side effects is dangerous.

I am not suggesting that we should stop using experimental science to improve lives. This is an important and worthy objective in providing medicines and cures to patients. I am, however, saying that proper procedures must be followed in order to avoid problems.

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