Future Health - 12/31/18

Delivering care in the new virtual world…

The Dawn Of A New CRISPR Horizon – It was only a matter of time before it would finally happen.  And, I have to pile on!!  A Chinese scientist – He Jiankui,  Ph.D. from  Southern University of Science and Technology of Shenzhen – claimed just before the holidays that he had edited the DNA of twin embryos with the work being completed in secrecy and outside the realm of a peer-reviewed journal.  Specifically, he announced that he had disabled the gene that allows HIV to infect cells.  The stated reason for conducting the procedure was the fact that the father of the two twins – Lulu and Nana – is HIV positive.  While there were initially some who questioned whether or not the claims were real…it was finally announced that they apparently were!  As you can imagine, the ethernet was alight with reactions – many, if not most, of which called into question whether or not this had breached the ethical constraints the scientific community had previously placed on CRISPR research.  But, as I note rather cynically, did we really think this wouldn’t happen at some point. 

Now just for the record, I’m VERY concerned about the announcement.  I believe it calls into question all sorts of issues which have not been fully debated, accounted and accepted not just by scientists but all of society.  The announcement has clearly breached the “God point” in human creation.  Now that the cat is clearly out of the bag, we need to define it, deal with it and manage it rather than simply surmising and talking about it.  What will that take?  It’s clear that the theoretical has now moved into the realm of the real.  Therefore, a much more concerted effort by the entire international community needs to be convened to address the potential of CRISPR technology as well as the threats – and, how we as a human society will manage it.  For the lay reader, this is crucial since the focus of the International Summit on Human Gene Editing which met in 2015 was focused on CRISPR editing on disease-causing DNA by the human body’s somatic cells.  These are the cells that are not involved in reproduction which means that any changes cannot be passed along beyond the individual.  By venturing into the realm of reproductive cells, changes made by scientists will clearly be passed along to subsequent generations into perpetuity if reproduction is allowed to occur – which is only inevitable. 

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