Gene Editing on Babies to Avoid Deafness and Other Ailments

Genome editing, or commonly known as gene editing, is one of the most controversial form of biomedical technology. In fact, it has been so much as a concern that the World Health Organisation has installed an international registry of all medical professionals researching the topic. However, despite some red flags and ethical concerns, gene editing is still a treatment that some patients are willing to explore.

The most common way for gene editing is the CRISPR-CAS9 method, which is heavily imposed with restrictions from region to region due to its unethical nature for some. CRISPR or scientifically known as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is precisely editing the DNA of an organism to treat a disease or to increase sustainable manufacturing. The debate on gene editing has surfaced on occasion with activists voicing their unease with matters of safety, uninformed consent, wealth disparities and moral and religious concerns for the embryo involved. Despite the regard for human rights and justice, CRISPR-CAS9 technology is still highly practiced.

Russian Biologist, Denise Rebrikov, plans to undergo an important project where he will perform genome editing on five human embryos in an effort to reduce their chances of inheriting deafness. Rebrikov intends to alter the GJB2 gene that allows a child to be born deaf if both parents are carriers of the mutated gene. By changing a copy of one of the GJB2 gene within the fertilised embryo, the biologist believes this will increase the chances of the child not becoming deaf.

Ultimately, Rebrikov’s experiment is a means to show that CRISPR can be justified scientifically and be proven to be safe medically. However, this does not stop those from voicing their opinions who oppose Rebrikov’s attempt to rectify a ‘callous’ act. The biologist intends to perform his experiment within the legal grounds, alerting the Russian authorities of every precautious step taken for this experiment.

University of Oxford bioethicist, Julian Savulescu, voiced her thoughts on the entire matter,

“The first human trials should start with embryos or infants with nothing to lose, with fatal conditions. You should not be starting with an embryo which stands to lead a pretty normal life.”

Thankfully, researchers at the Purdue University in Indiana, USA, is currently crafting an alternative means of genome editing and CRISPR-CAS9 technology which is said to change the way gene editing will be conducted in the future. The team has created a method that uses the Argonaute, a protein from Natronobacterium gregoryi (NgAgo) which can provide new options to sustainable manufacturing and improved disease treatments.

References

  1. Five Couples Agree to CRISPR Their Babies to Avoid Deafness, July 2019, Futurism
  2. What are genome editing and CRISPR-Cas9?, July 2019, Genetics Home Reference
  3. New protein for gene editing may improve disease treatment, sustainable manufacturing, April 2019, Science Daily
  4. What are the Ethical Concerns of Gene editing?, 2017, GenomeGov.