Less than a week after the entire scientific world was condemned by the Chinese scientist He Jiankui, who said that children were born in China who had the HIV-resistant gene edited before birth, US scientists reported that they were going to use the technology editing genes against another disease - Alzheimer's disease.
Over the next several weeks, Werner Neuhausser, a physician and scientist with in vitro fertilization (IVF), intends to use a gene editing tool known as CRISPR to determine whether it is possible to create children with a lower risk of disease at a later age.
The project, which will be carried out at the Harvard University Stem Cell Institute using sperm from the Boston IVF Center, will include sperm editing to alter ApoE, a gene closely related to Alzheimer's disease.
The team will try to change the DNA inside the sperm using a CRISPR version called base editing to turn the risky version of ApoE into a “less risky” gene.
People born with a high-level version of the gene are at risk for Alzheimer's disease throughout their lives, with a probability of about 60 percent.
His unpublished research is in its earliest stages, and its purpose is not the intention to create embryos from altered sperm, which, it is argued, is a fundamental difference from the Chinese scientific doctrine.
Is the motive that American researchers follow in their experiments radically different from the one that guided the Chinese scientist, claiming that he created the world's first genetically-edited children?
He Jiankui allegedly used a technique known as CRISPR to change the genes of twin girls and make them resistant to the HIV virus.
In any case, such experiments are nothing but persistent and inevitable attempts to influence the history of the development of genetic engineering.
Both projects, although they are separated from each other in the field of application, are evidence that the genomic “genie” is really out of the bottle, and it will probably be difficult to bring it back.
The international response to his work was immediate and widespread, which led to a discussion of more ethical issues still associated with experimental gene editing technology.
Now there is absolutely no way to know what the long-term impact of gene editing will be on the future health of a child. Therefore, when He Jiankui conducted his experiment, one had to cross his fingers, relying on the fact that the only purpose of genetic change was only what was stated and that people absolutely understood the function of this gene. This technology, if it becomes a common practice, may also mean in a wider sense that there is a possibility of unknown side effects of editing genes that will require generations of genetically modified people to understand. There is concern about how the world will look, in which, for example, wealthy people can afford to have healthy children, but poor people will not.
There has been a problem in this area for a long time that the gap between social classes may increase as a result of using technology because of the price tag it will declare.
Professor Robert Sparrow from the Monash Univeristy Faculty of Philosophy believes: “We already accept the inequality in a child’s life perspectives depending on parental wealth, so this inequality is no different from another, but many people say that it’s completely unfair that what your life looks like depends on who your parents were, so you need not develop this technology, but provide proper medical care at an early age. "
The observation is fair, but it is based on a dubious conclusion. Science develops according to its own laws, and it is hardly possible to say with certainty what is more valuable in this case: the opinion of an intellectual observer, or the result of an independent development of the intellect?
Photo: Instagram werner_neuhausser
Based on MIT Technology Review