Gene Editing Is the Next Big Thing

by pharmacy on February 14, 2018

gene editingGene editing has been a big topic amongst some circles and continues to be a big deal when we think of healthcare. Gene editing is still considered to be controversial with opponents arguing that it’s simply not ethical to edit our genes. Today we look at the basics of gene editing happening today, what it can do in the future, and what it means for healthcare overall.

We Already Use It

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat) was developed in 2013 with the idea that we would be able to engineer humans to be less prone to diseases and add longevity. That is precisely what disturbs its opponents. While we aren’t cloning humans, we are still using the technology now to showcase the benefits of the technology. It has been used to change a butterfly’s colors, engineer a better tomato, test for disease, and edit human embryos. It is not a perfect science and one that could be improved if we could get through some technical and ethical roadblocks.

The Possibilities Are Incredible

Since our DNA is composed of four nucleotides or single letters, it’s easy to detect how a disease could present itself in a person. Clinical studies have proved that over half of all single letter mutations accounted for genetic diseases. The studies also showed that in cases of bone cancer, correcting a single letter mutation resulted in a 50% success rate. Those statistics may not sound impressive, but we have come far with our studies of human DNA and how a disease presents itself.

We Aren’t Limited to Altering DNA

This technology doesn’t have to edit just the DNA, it can edit RNA as well and could prove to be the better option. If you thought of DNA and RNA as blueprints, editing DNA would be permanent. Editing RNA would not, which becomes more attractive to current gene-editing opponents. Editing RNA is a similar process and similar outcomes but it’s important to note that it doesn’t become a cure-all to eradicate all diseases from a body.

The Impact on Healthcare

If we were to see gene editing on DNA becoming a common procedure, we would see healthcare change in drastic ways. People would live longer and relatively disease-free. Medicines for short-term illnesses would still be needed but removing cancer risks or diabetes means that we would see a decline in a need for those medicines. Do we think it will happen? Not anytime soon. The reality is that when ethics come into the mix, most people don’t want to subject people to gene-editing for the sake of eradicating a disease. That is where editing RNA becomes a little easier to consider. If we were to see it become a popular trend, we would still need medicines and treatments because it’s not a permanent fix. If you got your RNA edited to avoid cancer, that doesn’t mean you will never get cancer it just puts it off for a lot longer. RNA editing also does not pass on to offspring.

We don’t foresee this technology take the healthcare by storm yet. It is there and being used for what it can right now. It will evolve in the future and we will be faced with the question on “should we, or shouldn’t we?” What do you think?

 

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