Gene editing has become a popular new science. The process is meant to cut gene codes that are for deadly disease, such as cancer, and replace them with normal gene codes. But is this safe?
BBC news reports on gene editing. Research shows that there is a new safer way to do gene editing, making it even more popular than before.
CRISPR (gene editing) has become extremely popular but many also have safety concerns. Scientists got the idea for CRISPR from bacteria; they use the process to protect themselves from viruses.
But there are many concerns with using CRISPR. “Scientists have been using it in the lab to target and cut out faulty DNA in human cells that cause illnesses. While effective, the process is less than perfect and can cut out too much DNA, experts have found,” according to BBC news.
How is this editing done?
Experts say a guide RNA scans the DNA to find the target gene and then a Cas9 enzyme cuts through both strands of DNA. Finally a faulty gene is then inactivated or replaced with a healthy copy in that spot.
These unwanted edits could alter other important genes, inadvertently triggering cancer, and accidentally spark cancer. Harvard and MIT experts say they have solved this problem by altering the molecular structure of the Cas9 enzyme. This new changed version should now only cut out the DNA it is designed to, leaving the rest of the precious genetic code intact as it should be.
BBC explains, “They made changes to amino acids - the building blocks of Cas9 - and found this improved its accuracy, reducing the risk of 'off-target' cuts. In repeated tests on human embryonic kidney cells, the researchers were unable to detect any cutting errors.”
One expert researcher Feng Zhang said this should aid in relieving some of the safety concerns people have had.
Zhang said, “We certainly don't see this as a magic bullet. The field is advancing at a rapid pace, and there is still a lot to learn before we can consider applying this technology for clinical use.”
BBC also spoke to experts in England. Professor Malcolm White, an expert in Crispr and DNA repair at the University of St. Andrews, referred to the early work as ‘promising’.
He said the changed version of Cas9 seems to be a safer tool, which would be helpful if scientists want to correct defects in human genes. However he also said that he thinks more studies are needed as well as ethical debates about when we should use gene editing. The ethical debate comes into play about things like people trying to use gene editing to make designer babies.