“You really don’t know what you are doing!”
A voice in the audience cried out. It was a public event that featured several entrepreneurs touting their home-brewed therapies, utilizing new technology to create genetically modified treatments for a variety of medical conditions. Many of the entrepreneurs had no background in molecular biology and some admitted that everything they learned was gleaned from videos on social media. What was this new technology?
This is an acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”. This mouthful describes a family of DNA sequences that are found in bacteria and are similar to sequences found in other viruses known as bacteriophages. CRISPR is associated with Cas9 which stands for CRISPR-associated protein 9. This enzyme binds to CRISPR sequences and cleaves it, destroying the invading foreign DNA. Thus, the CRISPR and Cas9 system are critical to the antiviral immune defense of bacteria.
Researchers modified the Cas9 protein and attached specific RNA sequences, complementary to the desired DNA target sequences, creating a precise method of removing specific DNA sequences and introducing new sequences. These changes could be made in organisms besides bacteria and have been applied to genetically engineer human cells.
The results are astounding. CRISPR gene editing has revolutionized the approach to genetic engineering with a precision that just a decade earlier, would have been unimaginable. It is a remarkable technological advancement with seemingly limitless potential. It has led to significant breakthroughs and treatments of several genetic diseases. However, like any new technology, there is the potential for abuse and nefarious schemes. The truly frightening scenarios are the numerous individuals, known and unknown, who are currently utilizing the technology without a complete understanding of the potential for catastrophic errors or unintended results. They labor under the banner of equal access to medical care for the disenfranchised yet take dangerous short cuts by bypassing the usual rigorous testing for any new therapeutic treatment in humans. They cloak themselves within the noble cause of discovering cures for previously hopeless diseases yet they are preying upon the desperation of patients, willing to risk their own lives for a slim chance to receive a dubious treatment.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”…
Luke 23:34 (ESV)
As Jesus Christ hung on the Cross, His tortured, bleeding, and naked Body on lurid display, observers hurled insults at Him. These ignorant people had no understanding of what they were doing or saying. They were sure that if only Jesus would come down from the Cross, they would believe in Him. If He didn’t die, He could rid Jerusalem of its Roman conquerors and demonstrate to the Jewish leaders that He really was the Messiah, silencing their taunts! Yes, He could have done this but this was not His purpose. Jesus was to remain on the Cross and die so that He could receive the punishment for our sins, a punishment that we justly deserved. He was there to reconcile and restore the sacred relationship between God and man, broken by our sins. Their taunts and desires were misguided and shortsighted.
They did not know what they were doing.
We are at a critical inflection point in our understanding and manipulation of the human genome. As a Christian and a physician, I completely support the careful research needed to bring these remarkable treatments to reality. I deplore the naivete and shortsightedness of those who would utilize this technology without understanding the complete impact their actions may portend because they do not know what they are doing.
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.