"Genetic surgery" is a term that has cropped up over the past year or two and is something you will likely hear much more frequently in the coming years.
This procedure will be made possible by an exciting new technique under pre-clinical development now by large multi-national pharmaceutical companies and countless biotech or pharma startups. The use of CRISPR Cas9 technology to repair, edit, or add to an organism’s genetic code is one of the most promising and exciting developments--not only for scientific research but also for medical science--since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928.
This technology can be used to edit an organism’s existing DNA or to insert foreign DNA that serves a function the organism is not capable of without. For example, a common cause for those who suffer from metabolic diseases are simple alterations in the genome that result in improper functioning of the protein coded by that gene. With genetic surgery, the hope is that we would be able to cure these maladies by simply repairing the genes that control them. In theory, this is achievable not only in individuals with metabolic diseases, but a wide range of fatal and non-fatal diseases that affect a person’s ability to thrive in one way or another.
So where should the lines be drawn between a medical necessity, or something cosmetic, neutral, or unethical? As difficult as success in practice will be, there is no doubt that the procedure will be subject to an equally challenging ethical discussion and set of regulations as the story unfolds.
Dr. Matthew Leming has over 10 years of basic science research experience. He now works to commercialize promising new technologies with the investment group Trivariance Innovations.