The powerful new gene-editing tool CRISPR will soon be used in the US for the first time in human trials.
CRISPR allows researchers to make pinpoint modifications to a cell’s DNA. It gained notoriety in 2018 when a Chinese scientist purportedly edited the DNA of unborn twins. That experiment was widely condemned, both inside and outside China, because the edits were made to embryos and would be passed down to their offspring. The technology is too young for us to know what kinds of problems it might introduce into the human gene pool.
However, the upcoming study will not make heritable changes. Researchers will simply correct the genes of light-sensitive cells in the patients’ eyes.
The subjects are born with Leber congenital amaurosis, the most common cause of childhood blindness. People with this disorder have normal eyes, but a defective gene in the light-sensitive cells of their retinas keeps visual information from reaching their brains. The study seeks to edit that defective gene and give them sight.
Despite ethical abuses, like the incident in China, other scientists around the world are finding CRISPR a useful tool. For example, scientists hope to breed and study animals with genetic disorders to possibly develop treatment for people with the same disorders. Researchers could also use this tool to genetically modify pigs so their organs can be used to reduce the severe shortage of human transplant organs.
God has given us wonderful tools to help others. But any tool can be used for good or evil. Experimenting on the unborn is clearly an abuse of God’s gift, but what better use of this technology than to restore sight to the blind?