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Desc:Interesting times, indeed...
Category:Science & Technology, Educational
Tags:cancer, stem cells, CRISPR, gene therapy, they tampered in the domain of God
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Comment count is 16
Jet Bin Fever - 2015-12-01
It's a pretty exciting prospect, to be able to treat some of the horrifying genetic disorders we face. However, I have to say that many standards of practice would have to be established before I would ever prescribe it to one of my patients. As a disclaimer though, I should mention that I am a family physician and not a hematologist oncologist or something of that nature. I could see lots of cutting edge cancer centers jumping for this technology. I have my own personal reservations though.

The story of humanity has always been the development of technology before a complete, ethical comprehension of its ramifications has been established, and this is a particularly dangerous version of that. CRISPR clearly has amazing therapeutic promise, however my fear, and the fear of many, is that we could effectively edit out certain "varieties" of humanity.

I know it's one of those old, worn-out slippery-slope arguments. But, it's pretty clear that as it stands we don't have enough ethical controls, especially worldwide, to prevent people from editing more than just a simple Sickle Cell or Huntington's trait. Thankfully, many human features like height are a complex combination of genes and can't easily be spliced out and changed. It will be a long while before the wealthy are a sub-race of stunningly beautiful statuesque blondes.

Also, we are just scratching the surface on understanding our human genome, so modifying even a small portion of genetic material can have huge unseen ramifications. The phenotype and genotype are only part of this understanding too... there is also human epigenetics, which we know little to nothing about, comparatively.

Do you know if these changes may affect the germ line too? If so, it would mean ramifications not only for the individual, but for their progeny too. While it seems appealing to wipe something like Huntington's that is autosomal dominant out of a gene pool, the thought of effectively modifying a whole family bloodline is really spooky to me.
fedex - 2015-12-01
what I don't understand though, and maybe you can elucidate, is how do you do this over and over to the millions or billions of cells in a human embryo?

Arcturus - 2015-12-01
It definitely has germ line ramifications, just google "gene drive" and see what people have been working on. The US National Academies of Science is hosting a big global ethical conference on this subject today (PoE irony), and most of the leaders of the field are in attendance. The agenda and slides from the presentations can be found here:

http://nationalacademies.org/gene-editing/Gene-Edit-Summit/Sli de-Presentations/index.htm

The academies have also noted that they will be posting video of the presentations at some point. If you want a summary of the current argument for / against look no further than the discussion between NIH Director Francis Collins and synthetic biology superstar George Church (who's book Regenesis is a wondeful introduction to the future, imho.)

http://www.statnews.com/2015/11/30/gene-editing-crispr-germlin e/

Jet Bin Fever - 2015-12-01
Well, it's pretty complicated, but as far as I understand the RNA guide will target the specific DNA sequence and either silence or replace it. It will do this over and over as often as it encounters that specific gene. Think of it kind of like a "Find and Replace" function on a Word Processor. It doesn't have to be in an embryo either and has been shown to edit genes in adult mice.

Jet Bin Fever - 2015-12-01
that was to fedex. And thanks Arcturus, that's interesting.

poorwill - 2015-12-01
So this isn't just for eggs? You could edit the genome of an adult human being? I'LL FINALLY BE ABLE TO BREATHE THROUGH MY SKIN?

bawbag - 2015-12-01
Transhumanism could be a lot closer than I'd ever have thought.
Zoot42 - 2015-12-01
It's so close, I'm a biology undergrad right now and I bet you that a little after the time I graduate grad school people will be gene-doping and using more complex robotic limbs.

SolRo - 2015-12-01
I thought I heard there's some gene doping in athletics already.

Arcturus - 2015-12-01
Editing genes is one thing, but scaling into proteomics, cell metabolism, cell morphology, and tissues, not to mention related issues with toxicology is another thing entirely. We've just started to throw adequate funding into neuroscience with the Brain initiative, but there is a lot we don't know about that crucial component of anatomy before cyborgs and other transhmanist fantasies become reality.

This research will be the conducted in a race against the clock because the inevitable public freakout from religious fundamentalists and your garden variety luddites will be screaming for public policy moratoriums on research.

Is it closer? Yes. But we're a long, long way from Kurzweilian utopia and William Gibson fever dreams.

Sanest Man Alive - 2015-12-01
Transhumanism = Silicon Valley's idea of going Galt, so I'm fine with it remaining a pipe dream forever.

bawbag - 2015-12-02
@sanest man alive

I could definitely see it being some techbro's wank fantasy in the initial stages when the cost is still prohibitive and I'm sure Kurzweil et al would be all over this but still, quite exciting stuff for the rest of humanity.

Sanest Man Alive - 2015-12-01
Fucking amazing technology, and I hope it means some real breakthroughs in thwarting cancers and hereditary diseases, but did they have to settle on an acronym that sounds like some mobile app for cruising?
Architeuthis Tux - 2015-12-02
This oughta be a nice, speedy ticket to learning about the importance of methylation and epigenetics.
Jet Bin Fever - 2015-12-02

That guy - 2015-12-02
Why did they name it after the vegetable drawer in a fridge?
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