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Gene-Editing Tool Approved For Use in Humans

Image: McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT
Image: McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT

Brace yourself for GATTACA comparisons. A powerful gene-editing tool that could pave the way for genetic engineering has been approved for use in humans to fight cancer.

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Scientists will use the tool, called CRISPR cas-9, to change immune-system cells. That way, when they’re put back into the patient, the cells attack the tumor cells responsible for myeloma, melanoma, and sarcoma. It’s key to note that this experiment, proposed by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, is somatic, meaning it will not create changes that can be inherited.

Still, the approval is a big step forward in the bioethics debate around CRISPR and its potential uses. Many have said that the technology brings us very close to designer babies, and there has been much debate on the pros and cons of being able to genetically engineer our children.

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While it’s unlikely U.S. regulators would want CRISPR to be used for genetic engineering stateside, the worry is that other countries might not be so scrupulous—and if other countries start engineering kids to have higher IQs, the U.S. might have to start so we don’t fall behind. (That worry isn’t unfounded, since Chinese scientists have already edited the human genome of an embryo, creating changes that would be heritable though in this case they did not use viable embryos.)

So, CRISPR is an ethical minefield and the worries aren’t as outlandish as they might seem. But for now, no genome changes have happened and the approval is just for a cancer treatment, which is something almost everyone can get behind.

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Angela Chen is the morning editor at Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

This is such a minefield. Religiously, other than the saintity of the body(made in God’s image yadda yadda) I’m not apposed to progress. God made man, man learns medicine, medicine heals man. What I’m apposed to is doing too much too quickly.

Say man A gets modified eyes and woman B gets modified hands. If man A and woman B have kids will they inherit both changes or will the modifications react and kill the child with a horrible mutation no one saw coming.