According to Dr. Edze Westra, a bioscientist at the University of Exeter, the ability to splice selected DNA into cells with extreme precision will be of crucial importance over the next two decades. In spite of the pervading fear that gene editing might result in moral boundaries being crossed, Dr. Westra believes that it can be a potent tool in our ongoing fight against cancer and a host of other inherited diseases.
Dr. Westra came out with his statements just a few days after two major US scientific institutions — the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine — endorsed gene editing as a means of preventing the passing on of serious diseases. He is one of those leading the research and development of CRISPR/Cas9, the technology that makes use of ‘molecular scissors’ to cut out gene mutations or insert DNA. Although it’s only been a few years, this gene-cutting approach is developing so quickly that it is being predicted to achieve wondrous medical feats within the next 20 years.
Gene editing technology can do more than just fix genetic faults and remove cancer-causing genes. In the future, it can be used to keep hereditary diseases from being passed on to the next generations by replacing bad genes that may trigger illnesses, even before a baby is born. Going further, it can even be used to transform cells into mini-factories that can produce antibodies and therapeutic chemicals. Instead of the threat that it is perceived to be, gene editing will make it possible to bring about a new generation of healthier humans — without cancer, deteriorating vision, blindness, old age-related diseases and bad genes.
As promising as gene editing is in helping the world be disease-free, Dr. Westra also acknowledges the anxiety and apprehension it is causing. Specifically, many critics fear that it will not be used as a tool for treating and curing illnesses, but as a means to create ‘designer babies’ — dictating and enhancing physical features and mental attributes, rather than simply repairing what’s out of place.
Defending the revolutionary technology, Dr. Westra gives his assurance that making designer babies is not their aim. But because the fear about what gene editing can do and how it can be abused is reasonable and understandable, they will be discussing the risks and consequences before proceeding further.
Just like what the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine said (as reported by The Independent), with the necessary safeguards in place, the technology will hopefully be used for the greater good and not for a privileged few.