CRISPR-Cas9 has received global attention for its potential to eliminate genetic disorders, infectious diseases, and many other ailments that plague humans (pun intended). But in the realm of science, when something seems too good to be true, there are often important caveats. The current standing of gene editing technologies leaves many scientists wondering if we know enough about the genome and consequences of “genetic tampering” to do it in the name of betterment of mankind.
Recently, the US National Institutes of Health pledged $190 million to make gene editing more widespread. Last month, the story of a Russian couple, both of whom are deaf or partially-deaf and want to use CRISPR to genetically modify their embryos so that their future child is not, circulated around the world of science news. But we still do not know all of the potential adverse effects and consequences of gene editing human beings, leading some to argue that the regulation and applications of this important scientific technology cannot be left up to scientists.
The human genome is a complicated and intertwined set of information, and edits in one part of a gene may have downstream effects that we are currently unaware of. For example, gene editing can lead to large-scale deletions and rearrangements of genetic information that could lead to abnormal gene function and cell activity.
While the ability to edit and change the human genome is appealing to virtually every branch of medicine, serious ethical, social, and policy concerns surrounding CRISPR and other gene editing technologies must be grappled with alongside their scientific promise.