Imagine a time where disease doesn’t exist.
Cancer, failing vision, the diseases of old age or bad genes – they all may be a distant memory soon, thanks to gene editing.
Developed in the last five years, gene editing techniques could usher in a golden age of health, effectively ending the plague of cancer and inherited diseases.
Leading British expert Dr Edze Westra believes the ability to splice selected DNA into cells – a technology which is on the horizon – will become ‘super important’ in the next two decades.
The bioscientist from the University of Exeter says he foresees the technique transforming the lives of everyone and everything on the planet.
There is always a risk with this kind of technology and fears about designer babies and we have started having discussions about that so we can understand the consequences and long-term risks.
I think in the coming decades gene editing will become super important, and I think we will see it being used to cure all inherited diseases, to cure cancers, to restore sight to people by transplanting genes.
I think it will definitely have massive importance.
For the first time on Tuesday, two highly influential U.S. academic bodies acknowledged the potential of editing inherited genes.
The National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine ruled that gene editing of the human ‘germline’ – eggs, sperm and embryos – should not be seen as unacceptable in medical research.
Gene editing, which allows the precise ‘cutting and pasting’ of DNA, is already used in basic research that involves non-hertibale ‘somatic’ cells.
But critics insist that the powerful new technique should never be used to alter inherited DNA, which they say would lead to a slippery slope of ‘designer’ babies with selected features.
But the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine said that with safeguards, future use of germline gene editing to treat or prevent disease and disability was a ‘realistic possibility that deserves serious consideration’.
And it can do a lot more than fix genetic faults. Dr Westra said gene editing could be used to turn cells into ‘miniature factories’ that produce therapeutic chemicals or antibodies.
For instance, gene editing machinery placed inside the cells of malaria transmitting mosquitos could prevent them spreading the organism to humans.
“It could be a fantastic strategy to deal with some of the world’s biggest problems,” said Dr Westra.
The future is here, guys.