How CRISPR Cas9 Revolutionized Gene Therapy & How we Treat Diseases

Yoshizumi Ishino, a molecular biologist, and his colleagues from a Japanese university invented a gene-editing technology in 1987 that has since become known as CRISPR/Cas9. CRISPR is an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats in reference to genetic information. 

The CRISPR/Cas9 is like a copy and paste tool, cutting deformed or irregular DNA and pasting in corrected and healthy DNA made from the lab. CRISPR/Cas9 precisely cuts DNA and then lets natural DNA repair processes take over. The system consists of two parts: the Cas9 enzyme and a guide RNA. This has been used to help terminal patients or patients with previously thought incurable illnesses, as well as customizing human embryos to be immune to certain things or to have certain color eyes, hair, strength, intelligence, and skin. In 2015, the first human embryo was edited by Cas9 to remove a gene mutation linked to a heart condition. Cas9 has been used in experimentation ever since. CRISPR/Cas9 has revolutionized biomedical science and may soon enable a medical breakthrough in biological innovations in how we treat things like cancer, HIV, sickle cell disease, AIDS, and much more.

Middle School STEM Coordinator Mr. Matt Oster believes this tool has great potential. “I think it’s probably the most powerful scientific tool discovered in the last 20 years,” he said. This technology has amazing potential to do good and an even greater ability to push humanity forward if used responsibly and correctly. I highly support the research into gene editing as it has the potential to stop, reverse, or end aging, cure autoimmune diseases like HIV or AIDS, and can even help cure cancer. And while there should be a limit to how we use this technology, we shouldn’t ban it or cease research into it. 

Many others question the ethics of genetic editing due to the fear of gene editing becoming the new normal for humans. Opponents of gene editing argue that super soldiers and genetically altered humans will become the new norm, and people who aren’t edited will be discriminated against. People of faith may also feel like science is attempting to play God and interfere with His design. 

CRISPR/Cas9 really raises the question of what it truly means to be human and what side effects could occur in future generations of genetically modified people. GMO is an acronym for genetically modified organisms, and GMOs are prevalent throughout society, most noticeably in the food we eat. Food manufacturers use GMOs to increase shelf life, taste, and color. There is no evidence that GMOs are not healthy, but while GMOs are sustainable, they are subject to a lot of controversies. The arguments against GMOs are that they may not be an environmental impact and the possible long-term effects along with allergies to GMOs. 

Back to genetic editing, Oster supports gene editing but also has ethical concerns. “I absolutely think there are ethical concerns, and we should be wary of how far we push it because CRISPR/Cas9 has the power to change us genetically, which can be problematic in ways currently beyond our imagination,” he said.

Even though this technology is still in its infancy, the potential for good in this technology is beyond our imagination, but with great power comes great responsibility.