Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 6th 2015 Contents What if you could literally edit your body s genes?
Imagine taking specific genes out of your body to
reduce your chances of becoming obese or getting dis-
eases like cancer or Alzheimer s.
A medical breakthrough like that would be historic.
It would spare millions from pain and suffering. It
would save society hundreds of billions of dollars in
health care costs every year.
We re talking about an unproven gene-editing tech-
nique called CRISPR-Cas9. It sounds like science fic-
tion---until you learn that investors like Google and Bill
Gates have contributed millions to help realise its poten-
tial.Theoretically, the possible benefits of CRISPR-Cas9
could be nothing short of mind-blowing, including:
• Slowing the aging process and lengthening lives.
• Bringing back extinct species, like the woolly mam-
• Feeding the world by tweaking genes in farm crops
so they ll grow in more places.
CRISPR-Cas9 is based on a discovery that happened
about a decade ago. Scientists realised that bacterial
cells have a natural defence system: they identify invad-
ing viruses and chop up their DNA. Researchers decided
to learn how bacteria do that. So now, the race is on
to figure out how to snip out specific genes from DNA.
CRISPR stands for clustered, regularly interspaced,
short palindromic repeats. They re specific patterns of
DNA sequences, which can be edited out of genes.
Cas9 is a type of modified protein that s injected into
a body to work on the DNA. Think of Cas9 as the
scissors that snip the DNA.
Another possible CRISPR-Cas9 benefit involves pigs
and human organ transplants.
What if scientists could edit pig genes to create livers,
kidneys and other organs that could safely be trans-
planted into humans? Theoretically, CRISPR-Cas9
could manipulate the pig genes so human bodies would-
n t reject them.
Suddenly there would be no shortage of available
Result: Old or damaged human organs could easily
be replaced, reports The Economist. If successful, the
new organ supply would save lives.
Robust CRISPR research is ongoing. Last month,
Chinese scientists said they were the first to use CRISPR
to produce customised dogs. They reportedly manip-
ulated genes called myostatins and ended up with bea-
gles that were more muscular than regular beagles.
Myostatin genes produce proteins that inhibit muscles.
In fact, you can see the effects of not having myostatins
in the whippet dog breed. Many whippets have a nat-
urally occurring mutation that lacks myostatin genes,
making them grow into muscle-bound dogs.
In April, other researchers in China reported editing
genes in nonviable human embryos. They were trying
to correct defective genes that cause a blood disease
called beta thalassemia.
Can CRISPR help humans avoid obesity? At Harvard
and MIT, researchers suspect CRISPR may be able to
manipulate the so-called "obesity gene" which is
thought to contribute to obesity in some humans.
Remember, obesity costs society a lot of money. It is
projected to rack up US $344 billion in US health care
costs by 2018.
What about Alzheimer s disease? Caring for
Alzheimer s patients in the United States in 2015 will
cost society US$226 billion, according to the Alzheimer s
Dr Bence Gyorgy, a research fellow at Massachusetts
General Hospital, told CNN in August that he and col-
laborators Casey Maguire and Xandra Breakefield are
experimenting with lab mice to develop CRISPR-based
approaches to treat Alzheimer s and to correct a genetic
form of deafness.
Initially, CRISPR appears to be better suited for
destroying "bad" versions of genes that cause disease,
Gyorgy said. But eventually the technique may also be
able to replace those bad gene versions with normal,
The potential of CRISPR-Cas9 also raises huge ethical
questions among scientists, doctors and bioethicists.
Some fear it will open the door to exploitation of human
embryos manipulated for nontherapeutic reasons. For
example, parents might want to use CRISPR-Cas9 to
create a child with specific attributes---like eye colour
or athletic characteristics. Another concern is that the
technique could create unintended mutations, such as
new diseases. (CNN)
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, November 6, 2015
Unproven medical technique
could save countless lives, billions
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
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genes out of your
body to reduce
your chances of
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