by Adam Yardley
Whether or not you agree with the ethics behind the editing and splicing of genes, it’s safe to say that there have been a number of breakthroughs in the past few years alone. It’s thought that human gene editing could, in the future, allow us to effectively eradicate certain diseases more easily, and to take greater control over what our bodies do – and maybe even what they look like. It is yet another scientific advancement that appears to have been born from a work of fiction – but gene editing, such as via the much-lauded CRISPR technique, is making stride after stride, and is very real indeed.
However, this week, a concession appears to have been made with regard to just how bulletproof CRISPR really is. The gene editing system caused something of a stir – in a good way – as a breakthrough in the study of gene manipulation, with many believing it would pave the way for future evolution of technology and interest in the area. However, a recent study published in Nature Biotechnology suggests that prior research into CRISPR’s effectiveness may not have taken too much into account when it came to potentially harmful side-effects.
Researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, UK, published a study confirming that the revolutionary bacterial system – which reportedly enables us to ‘cut and replace’ certain strands of DNA – previous research may not have gone into enough depth with regard to the side-effects that may pop up along the way. “We speculate that current assessments may have missed a substantial proportion of potential genotypes generated by on-target Cas9 cutting and repair, some of which may have potential pathogenic consequences following somatic editing of large populations of mitotically active cells,” their assessment advises. This means that – unfortunately – things may not be as cut and dried as they appear, not at least according to research already published. It’s also suggested that such damage that could be caused to DNA may not be detectable.
▶ Study Suggest CRISPR Gene Editing Doing More Harm Than Good
Clinical trials into CRISPR appear to be continuing but, according to Gizmodo, at least three CRISPR providers have lost a considerable amount of money as a result of the recent publication – to the tune of $300 million shortly after news was announced – meaning that confidence, in some quarters, may be shaken. For now, however, it’s evidence of a learning curve – as research continues pressing on further.