To Invest or Not to Invest: The Future of Gene Editing

To Invest or Not to Invest: The Future of Gene Editing

Gene editing technology commonly known CRISPR has recently made headlines and become a point of discussion in the stock market when investment declined by 13 percent after articles claimed that the biotechnology could cause cancer [2, 5]. Gene editing has been praised in the medical field as a beneficial tool by which scientists could eventually eradicate fatal diseases such as cancer, and even control which traits future generations are born with.

In light of these rumors, researchers such as Jussi Taipale have made an effort to speak out against these misunderstandings, arguing that articles reporting on the studies have overstated the matter [1]. The studies published show that inhibiting the gene known as p53, which is responsible for fighting off mutations that eventually lead to cancer cells, allowed for gene editing through CRISPR to flourish as opposed to editing cells that had their p53 gene intact [1].

The authors of these studies have acknowledged that their study results have caused worry as to whether CRISPR will be as effective as anticipated in treating disease. To combat this issue, one would need to stop p53 genes from doing their job, though putting a pause on our cell’s natural inclination to fight harm may not be the most efficient response [1]. Moreover, it is important to note the possibility that the specific cells used in the studies recently published are more prone to these reactions, due to the fact that other scientists have not run into this particular issue using bone marrow cells [1].

In addition to treating fatal or life-altering diseases, gene editing can pave the way to “designing” our future generations [4]. In a study by Professor Scheufele, surveys found that 65 percent of the general public believed that gene editing for treatment was permissible, while only 26 percent of respondents believed that it was permissible for “enhancement” [4]. Professionals in the field argue that while there is some debate about gene editing, whether for treatment or enhancement, many members of the general public do not understand how gene editing works or what could potentially be achieved through it.

Ethical concerns in relation to gene editing and enhancement arise when one considers the possibility that gene editing could result in a major shift between members of different socioeconomic classes [3]. This is due to the probability that gene editing will be available to only those who can afford it. As stated by the ASHG, "genetic disease, once a universal common denominator, could instead become an artefact of class, geographic location, and culture" [4]. Enhancement through gene editing could also be used to “reinforce prejudice and narrow definitions of normalcy in our societies” [4].

It is clear there are many medical and ethical concerns that revolve around gene editing. However, one should consider that the field of gene editing has various subfields. Gene editing for the purpose of enhancement might be controversial but gene editing may also lead researchers to incredible breakthroughs in the medical field. Therefore, continuing  investment in gene editing technology is crucial in order to understand its full potential.

References:

  1. A CRISPR Conundrum: How Cells Fend Off Gene Editing https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/science/crispr-cancer-gene-editing.html

  2. CRISPR Stocks Tank After Research Shows Edited Cells Might Cause Cancer https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/11/crispr-stocks-tank-after-research-shows-edited-cells-might-cause-cancer.html

  3. CRISPR Fans Fight for Egalitarian Access to Gene Editing https://www.wired.com/story/clashes-over-the-future-of-gene-therapy-at-the-uss-biggest-biotech-meeting/

  4. Is Gene Editing Ethical? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319817.php

  5. CRISPR’s Next Big Debate: How Messy Is Too Messy? https://www.wired.com/2017/06/crispr-mutations/




 

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