The New Chinese-American War of Designer Humans

The New Chinese-American War of Designer Humans

Advances in science spark competition between powers that are rivals.  At least that is how the community sees it broadly.

Oncologist Lu You and his team at the Sichuan University in Chengdu introduced gene edited cells on October 28, 2016 into a patient from West China Hospital with aggressive lung cancer.

The significance of what Lu’s team did was that this was world’s first human CRISPR trial.  A field which is wrought with ethical questions as it involves altering the gene sequences in human beings.  Carl June, an immunotherapistat the University of Pennsylvania puts this work in China in perspective:

“I think this is going to trigger ‘Sputnik 2.0’, a biomedical duel on progress between China and the United States, which is important since competition usually improves the end product,”

The way the Chinese experts did this was to remove immune cells from the blood of the recipient and disabled one of the gene code for protein PD-1.  This gene disables the cell’s immune response, which the cancer cells use to attack the body in order to multiply.  The editing of the gene was done using the CRISPR-Cas9 technique.

Although there are questions – over and above the ethical considerations – about the effiiciency and scalability of the technique for regular cancer treatment, the advance is very exciting for most scientists who have seen how just blocking the PD-1 using anti-bodies has helped with lung cancer.  Using the CRISPR technique is an interesting way to handle PD-1 blocking.

The new gene editing technique can be extremely useful for patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer who have tried the traditional therapy choices like chemotherapy, radiation etc and have failed to recover.

The use of antibodies to block PD1 had been approved by FDA last year, but its utility in doing the job is suspect.  CRISPR is a direct and surer way to handle this intervention.

Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) are DNA segments that contain repetitive base sequences which are interspersed with spacer DNA which are remnants of bacteriophage virus or plasmid.

What is CRISPR/Cas9 technique?

Here is how Wikipedia describes it.

The CRISPR/Cas system is a prokaryotic immune system that confers resistance to foreign genetic elements such as those present within plasmids and phages,[4][5][6] and provides a form of acquired immunity. CRISPR associated proteins (Cas) use the CRISPR spacers to recognize and cut these exogenous genetic elements in a manner analogous to RNA interference in eukaryotic organisms.[3] CRISPRs are found in approximately 40% of sequenced bacterial genomes and 90% of sequenced archaea.[7][note 1]

For more details check out this video..

and this presentation

Playing God

This new gene editing technique is quite revolutionary in many ways.  In November 2013 at the Yunnan Key Laboratory for Primate Biomedical Research two female macaques were born.  Named Lingling and Mingming, the two female monkeys had specific portions of their DNA altered in the fertilized eggs.

With this the team led by Weizhi Ji, also one of the main architects of the experiment, was able to do precise genetic mutations!

They took the fertilized eggs and edited three genes precisely and planted them again into the surrogate macaque mother.

With this began a new era of biomedical discoveries.  What this means for future is that scientists could very well take human eggs and then alter those fertilized human eggs with CRISPR and create genetically modified babies.  Thereby creating designer babies!

There is so much that we can do in the world now, it would seem. We just have to have the right equipment and people can do anything that they want, even play God. Equipment has certainly changed, and the way that researcher go about things have also changed.

We’ve learnt so much in recent years, however, there are things which will always be a staple when it comes to research and experiments. For example, researchers and scientists have been using centrifuge tube since their invention in 1938, this is something which probably won’t change. You might be asking why though and the reason is that they are so useful when it comes to helping scientists with their research. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do things like creating designer babies!

It’s just amazing how far we have come and how much we can actually do. Compare it to a hundred years ago and things like this would be impossible.


Genome Editing: MIT Technology Review

Featured Image – Genetic Iteration

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