DNA editing: the end of genetic diseases?


By Diego Pereyra, specialist in Intensive Therapy and Technologist, coordinator of the Intensive Care Unit of the Güemes Sanatorium (MN 122 603)

For several years we can know the information that is inside our genome. This is possible thanks to the DNA sequence, which contains the information of each individual: height, eye color, sex and even the genetic load to develop any pathology. Yes, in the human genome we can see if we have a predisposition to cancer or if our baby will be born with some genetic pathology. Everything is written in the genome.

In 2012, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier described method to edit and correct DNA. To understand it, let's think about a word processor's broker: if I type a word wrong, the program will find the error automatically and suggest the correct option. Likewise, if my DNA has a poorly written sequence (for example, it says I'm going to develop some kind of anemia), with the method of these scientists – called "CRISPR-Cas9" – I can recognize the error in DNA, anomalous and paste a normal sequence for that sector that was typed incorrectly. So I can erase the root information and cure the disease for good.

As we see, this technology has no limits. In laboratory tests They manipulated the DNA of mice and managed to change hair color, cure their diseases and even modify any aspect of the rodent. It is worth saying that with this technology we can manipulate DNA as we would like. In fact, CRISPR-Cas9 technology has already reached humans: nowadays It is used in numerous investigations dedicated to the cure of cancer, anemia, cystic fibrosis and even the cure of HIV-AIDS. Indeed, it could be the end of many diseases.

However, Doudna raises in a TED lecture that we could also manipulate the human genome to create people with higher and harder bones or choose the color of the eyes before birth. In other words, we could create "superhumans". That's why the expert invites the entire research community to stop and open the discussion: where we are going and what we want to achieve with this technology. Because it could silently be used to create supersoldates, who can not get sick and are invincible. Therefore, it invites this technology to be used for good use in medicine, as some of the already mentioned: prenatal diagnosis of genetic diseases and their correction, cancer cure and HIV, etc.

In 2016, during my time at Singularity University (at NASA Research Park), I had the opportunity to take a genetic test. From a little saliva you can see, among other things, that I own a gene called FOXP2, linked to the ability to speak and learn a language at any age. Imagine if a pregnant mother knew that her baby did not have this gene and that the obstetrician, along with the epigenetic experts, offered to "add it" … or maybe to change the color of her eyes.

This advance must also be read in another context: Life expectancy around the world is on the rise. Every time we live more years, product of the new technologies in medicine, the new remedies to cure diseases and the genetically manipulated foods we eat. Recall that before the discovery of penicillin in 1928, life expectancy in the world was about 45 years. Today there are new medical specialties that study longevity, given that It is anticipated that, by 2070, humans will be able to live up to 120 years.

So If we could eliminate all these diseases, how would that affect the world? What would happen to basic issues like water, food, physical space, natural resources or global warming if we are so many on Earth? All of these are the major issues we are investigating in medicine and other professions.

Welcome Medical Technology for the proper use and cure of diseases. The future of medicine has come. See you in 50 years.


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