Photo by Eugene Zhyvchik

Can we beat evolution itself? Are we the species to finally destroy the game the entire world plays? Ever since the discovery of fire, we have been ten steps ahead of the competition. With fire, we could get more nutrients while reducing the amount of time we need to eat, allowing us to create things past our immediate need for survival. With agriculture, we could create our own food instead of relying on nature, and we have created cities off of planting seeds. Jumping thousands of years into the future, we have the industrial revolution that has completely revolutionized the way we treat the environment. We can use the energy of the lives in past eras to help us now. We have beat nature time and time again on a societal level, but can we do it on a biological one?

Photo by National Cancer Institute

We can. We now have the technology to fundamentally edit DNA. Harnessing the defense of ancient bacteria, we now have the power to change what it means to be human. CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats are small portions of DNA that guide the enzyme Cas-9 to cut DNA. The work of a surgeon is similar; CRISPRs are the hand guiding the scalpel of Cas-9 to perform surgery. With the complete decryption of the human genome, we can cut or insert any gene we deem fit.

Disease

Genetic disease

Photo by Victoria Tanner

CRISPR can alter any part of human DNA, which means that any part of the Human Genome can be altered. ‘Smaller’ diseases or disorders that come from one fault in the genome can easily be altered to find a permanent solution to them. Now there are dozens of diseases that fall under this, but the most notable are:

Non-Genetic Disease

Photo by National Cancer Institute

Along with these diseases and others, larger diseases such as cancer or brain disease can start to be rectified. Cancer specifically can use edited T-Cells in order to activate bonding between T-Cells and Cancer cells, destroying the cancer in the process. For T-Cells, CRISPR can make them stronger in two major ways relating to cancer:

  • Removing the cap of T-Cells where edited cells can now destroy cancer without any real barriers.
  • Allowing stronger binding between T-Cells and Cancer cells

As these diseases aren’t completely genetic, we need better ways to target them with genetics. This is why we need T-Cells, the immune system’s specialized fighters, to fight cancer. We have a perfect base for our tinkering, and we can equip T-Cells with the best equipment to fight cancer. If we can’t completely change the disease or its effects themselves, we can change the solution to make it better.

This sounds fantastical. Does CRISPR even work?

Not always. The system can fail in a number of ways, from the wrong gene being cut to repair being impeded. The actual process fails around fifteen percent of the time, with the most common issue being Cas-9 actually binding with the cut DNA to block repair. Cas-9 has many issues with actually reacting with DNA due to its own nature. There will never be a perfect cut for any surgery where there is no scarring, and Cas-9 is the same way. No solution is completely perfect.

Ethics:

Can we play God? We can change what is encoded within every human being, but should we? Many draw lines at ‘superficial’ uses of CRISPR, but how do we define superficial? For instance, muscles could be larger in order for both strength and beauty, and will be treated differently in ‘different’ circumstances. A larger issue is making your children different as well. Removing genetic disease is an outstanding feat, but is it moral for children to be fitted to our standards of beauty permanently? Gene Editing is a tattoo imprinted on children to which they had no consent in it. Removing them from disease is a noble task, but if we start to consider natural characteristics of race or ethnicity as tasks to fix we start to engage in Eugenics, one of science’s terrible failures. A major concern for any new technology is the group of people it will target. Gene Editing for the human body will have to go through immense testing, and that testing won’t come cheap. Can we afford to have a society that has genetic differences between rich and poor? Solving these ethical problems won’t be an easy task, but in order to create any semblance of a society that is just we must undergo the process.

TL;DR

Gene Editing is one of the most simple yet one of the most immense technologies of the future. We can change the human genome and defeat disease in the process, but should we defeat all of humanity’s ‘problems’?

I’m Aniket, and I’m curious about how we can make the human experience better. If you would like to contact me, here is my Linkedin.

I’m Aniket, and I’m interested in how we can make humans fundamentally better through better disease prevention and innovation.

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