The CRISPR Dilemma: A Road To Saving Lives Riddled with RoadblocksJanuary 19, 20232 min read
The New York Times recently published an Op-Ed by Dr. Fyodor Urnov unpacking the incredible advancement and possibilities of CRISPR gene editing technology on human lives. It also addressed some of the roadblocks and challenges preventing this "not so new" technology from getting to the finish line of promise.
Dr. Eric Kmiec, the director of ChristianaCare's Gene Editing Institute, whose unparalleled research has led to over 18 patents that have advanced medical research, also shared his concern in a follow-up letter published by the New York Times about the many roadblocks standing in the way of life-saving opportunities with gene editing and CRISPR technology.
Dr. Kmiec (above) in the lab
"If we were able to safely and effectively approve a COVID vaccine in a year, we must do the same by pooling public and private funds and seek ways to speed science. Why can’t we support the most promising solutions to some of the longest running and most intractable of cancers or rare diseases?"
The advancement of gene editing has not only been stalled by the outdated processes of medical reviews and policies, but many have introduced political and religious barriers. The idea of "playing God" or even Dr. Frankenstein when people hear the term "gene editing" raises ethical questions based on a lack of understanding. Some of these concerns are shared in this recent article in Futurism.
Ask one of the 100 people afflicted with a gene defect that could cost them their lives at age 7 and the perspective may be a little different. Nature makes mistakes, often imperfect, and impacted by the ever-changing landscape, impacted by external factors that are either known or unknown. Gene editing, simply put, can fix typos in genes that have experienced a glitch. As Dr. Kmiec puts it, "It allows us to correct mutations that are inbred in the genome, it's correcting nature's mistakes — and nature does make a bunch of mistakes."
Whether gene editing fits into a belief system or is too otherworldly for some to grapple with, Dr. Kmiec asserts that speeding up the delays put onto science by process, politics or fear will result in saving lives, saving pain and advancing possibility. Dr. Urnov agrees, "Scientists owe them and their families honesty about the chasm between a test tube in a lab and an IV line in a hospital. The greatest obstacles are not technical but legal, financial and organizational."
Gene editing is a pioneering technology that can help humans, plants and animals alike. When it comes to putting it into action, at the very least, if science is there to help, everyone should have the choice to use it.
Eric Kmiec, Ph.D Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer, The Gene Editing Institute
Dr. Kmiec, a pioneer in the field, has achieved several ground-breaking firsts in CRISPR gene editing.