Rachel Hong / Portola HS 11th Grade
Every scientific discovery begins with uncertain processes of trial and error that often arouse rejection or fear from the public, examples being the development of vaccines, surgery, the concept of bacteria and so many more. CRISPR technology, although in very early stages of experimentation, has the potential to become one of these transformative innovations.
To lessen or attempt to eliminate mutations in DNA, scientists have developed CRISPR-Cas9 technology that allows for the editing of genomes by engineering enzymes. This technology will potentially be able to correct genetic defects, treat and prevent diseases and improve crops. CRISPR technology has already been experimented among patients such as those diagnosed with cancer and sickle cell disease.
Recently, US scientists successfully genetically edited three cancer patients’ immune systems without the development of any side effects; the experiment also proved the technique is nontoxic. The best outcome of CRISPR, so far, has been in a sarcoma patient whose tumor shrunk from the CRISPR, although his cancer still progressed. Victoria Gray, a sickle cell patient, has also been one of the first to undergo CRISPR treatment and has returned home from the hospital, but the results of the treatment are not certain as it may take weeks or months to know if the edited cells are safe and working. In China, scientist He Jiankui used CRISPR to edit the genes of babies to prevent the transmission of HIV from a parent.
However, while CRISPR has been discovered to be nontoxic and have no side effects, the technology is still in its very early stages and definitely not advanced enough to be released into the public. The ethics of CRISPR has also been questioned by many people as patients of CRISPR trials have had some unfortunate situations: one of the cancer patients has died and the two others’ conditions have worsened, and He Jiankui has been sentenced to three years in prison for illegal medical practices.
Ultimately, the true outcomes and effects of CRISPR are unknown due to the limited research and trials. Yet, instead of being fearful of a few negative outcomes of this technology, people should maintain an open mind towards gene therapy and other scientific advancements in the future as CRISPR has the potential to become a transformative norm in society and rejection will only delay many lives that could be improved or saved through this technology.
<Rachel Hong / Portola HS 11th Grade