Georgia Adams-Newton's column on Gene editing - therapeutic possibilities and ethicality

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Georgia Adams-Newton studies A levels in English Literature, Biology and Maths at Abbeygate Sixth Form College. Her last appearance in the Bury Free Press was over 15 years ago – when she was photographed holding a pigeon in the Abbey Gardens.

Over a decade later, Georgia discusses her love of science and in particular gives her thoughts on gene editing – a group of technologies that gives scientists the ability to change an organisms DNA.

Here she reflects on how this scientific breakthrough may change the world.

In my opinion, gene editing is one of the most exciting and complex scientific revelations in recent history.

Few people know of the vast therapeutic possibilities it brings and are unsure whether they know enough about genetic modification processes to completely trust it.

So, if phrases such as “CRISPR”, “genome”, and “bioethics” leave you scratching your head, then don’t worry; you’re in the majority.

In this article, I’ll try my best to not only raise awareness about the vast therapeutic opportunities gene editing offers, but to also address concerns with the ethicality of editing the human genome (all of the genetic information of a human).

This scientific revelation has only been known of since the 1950s, which makes it very young in the scientific community. Even later, in 1987, CRISPR was founded in the bacteria E. coli. CRISPR is a “cut and paste” tool; it allows DNA to be cut at any place in the sequence and a small section of it removed – then either discarded or placed in another position in the sequence. It either disables or repairs a gene.

Already, there are many ground-breaking possibilities for it - such as the potential to combat world hunger in the future, being able to treat cancer by using CRISPR to target cancer cells, speeding up the time it takes to discover and mass distribute new drugs using CRISPR, potentially preventing offspring from inheriting genetic diseases and lots of other possibilities.

These could be highly beneficial in making humans healthier, but how far should we take this?

There are many ethical issues regarding gene editing. Whilst many agree that it should be used for treating diseases, the majority are sceptical about its potential applications on allowing people to choose desirable traits for their babies, or to make supermarket food look appealing. If people discover that their food had been genetically modified they may feel worried and unsure of any effects it would cause. However, if all diseases were cured, would this be interfering with mother nature? Is it wrong to allow over-population and not allow mother nature to retain stable population sizes? 

Manipulating the DNA make up of human beings may seem like an extraordinary breakthrough, but there are risks involved and studies show that people would tend to choose traits that their partners hold anyway. There is always a risk of unintended changes occurring; for example, the loss of an entire chromosome. Further risks consist of gene editing being at risk to harmfully reduce human diversity and increase social inequality by editing out the kinds of people that are categorised as diseased or genetically impaired.

But how does genome editing positively affect society if it has so many risks? It can significantly improve millions of lives; allowing faster and more accurate diagnoses of illnesses, more targeted and personalised treatments of diseases (e.g. cancer) and the prevention of genetic disorders. In the case of monogenic (caused by a variation in one gene) disorders, the potential benefits outweigh the risks. CRISPR gene editing can eliminate the underlying causes, rather than just treat the symptoms and consequences.

Gene editing has the power to cure a multitude of diseases and resolve world issues.

I believe that giving this invaluable tool the research it needs will unleash its potential and improve the world.