The Positive and Negative Implications of Gene Therapy

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Gene Therapy

Science is an ever-growing field, where there are always new things to be discovered. Science is what leads to the progression of our world, and Biology is what leads to our improvement of life itself. Gene Therapy is a form of biotechnology that works by altering our genes and cells. It is a very new form of biotechnology, and as a consequence, there is still a lot of research to be done. Another consequence is the growing controversy around gene therapy; anything new and different will definitely have a variety of responses both positive and negative. Gene Therapy is beneficial because it can eradicate diseases, prevent future ailments, and lead to potential cures. Ultimately, gene therapy is a very modern technology that possesses both negative and positive qualities.

Gene therapy is an experimental method used to treat genetic illnesses by inserting healthy genes into cells, taking out the bad ones, or replacing a mutated gene. It uses a vector, usually a virus, to send a gene to where it’s needed in the cell. Once the gene is inside, the cell's gene-reading machinery uses the information in the gene to build RNA and protein molecules. These proteins can then carry out their job in the cells.

The concept of gene therapy first arose in the 1970’s. Theodore Friedmann and Richard Roblin published a paper in 1972 in Science called "Gene therapy for human genetic disease?" which cited Stanfield Roger's proposal in 1970 that "good DNA" could be used to replace defective DNA in people with genetic disorders (Gene Therapy History). This theory is still in its infancy, meaning there isn’t a good amount of reliable, long-term data on the safety and effectiveness of this therapy. There is still a lot of research to be done, and a lot of controversy to overcome.

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Gene therapy was used for the first time on September 14th, 1990. The patient to be treated with gene therapy was a four-year-old girl, who had a rare genetic disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). She lacked a healthy immune system, which made her body vulnerable to every infection or sickness. Children diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency rarely make it to adulthood, as just the common cold can be life-threatening. In the gene therapy procedure, the doctors removed the white blood cells from her body and let the cells grow in the lab. They then inserted the missing gene into the cells, and infused the genetically modified blood cells back into the girl’s bloodstream. Laboratory tests showed that the therapy strengthened her immune system by forty percent. The gene therapy procedure was not a cure, however. The white blood cells that were genetically treated only work for a few months, after which, the process must be repeated.

The gene therapy procedure has a lot of potential, and with the right developments, scientists could be able to cure a plethora of diseases. Most, if not all, diseases have a genetic factor. The genetic factor can be wholly or partially responsible for the disease (The Future is Here). Disorders such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy are examples of when a change in the gene directly results in the condition. Other conditions such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure have both genetic and environmental factors that interact to cause the disease. When the gene therapy procedure is improved and certified for use, it can eradicate diseases, prevent future ailments, and lead to potential cures.

Of course, every new piece of technology will face some debate. Gene therapy is no exception. Because this procedure deals with human lives and the altering of mortal bodies, there are several ethical concerns that surround it. The prospect of altering what many see as the blueprint of human life raises questions about humans stepping out of their place and “playing God”. These people understand the suspicious archetype that messing with matters as touchy as life can lead to failure and catastrophic, unintended consequences. People also fear that this will lead to humans gaining the ability to make “designer babies”. This has been the topic of much controversy and has led to cinema breakthroughs like Gattaca. The thinking behind this theory is that biotechnological science could eventually grow to the point of choosing the traits of our babies. This includes things such as gender, intelligence, appearance, health, and personality. Of course, gene therapy is a very similar process, altering genetic makeup in order to change the gene and eradicate disease, and this means that the “designer baby” era could be here very soon.

The other side of the argument says that there are hopes eliminating virtually all disease with the use of gene therapy, and they therefore advocate for its advancement. These people embrace a futuristic world full of technology, and are not afraid to grow and progress. Understanding that the only way to find cures is to do experimental research and try new things is what they believe. They think that society cannot move forward unless someone takes a risk for the betterment of society. Therefore, they are all for the gene therapy procedure and development of the topic. These two opinions may be worlds apart, however, both parties believe that there is something unique and ground breaking about this new biotechnology.

In my personal opinion, I believe that gene therapy has the potential to lead to curing all diseases, including cancer. I feel that we should encourage the research in the subject, therefore that this procedure can grow and be perfected. Its benefits far outweigh the consequences. Just think, in about a decade, we could be able to cure diseases that have always been deemed as permanent. Millions of lives could be saved with the gene therapy procedure. All it needs is a little time in order to eliminate any flaws, and make it completely safe. I believe that one can justify “playing God,” if it is for the wellbeing and livelihood of someone, or even multitudes of people. If we have this technology in our hands, why not use it for the greater good? People are constantly saying things such as “why are our scientists doing this when they could be finding a cure to cancer?” Well, here we are faced with a very possible cure to cancer and the only thing inhibiting this breakthrough is the skeptic, conservative criticism that the subject is receiving from the public. I feel that with growth and the right support from the media, we could see diseases being healed with the gene therapy procedure in about a decade.

In conclusion, gene therapy is a huge scientific breakthrough that has momentous potential. There is much controversy surrounding the procedure, as people are nervous about the aspect of “playing God”. This is understandable; people are scared of the unknown. However, this procedure could lead to ground-breaking scientific achievements such as curing cancer and several other diseases. Ultimately, in order to grow in this subject, the people of this world must also grow as a whole and be ready to face new and modern things. Once this procedure is fully developed and completely safe, efficient, and successful, it has the power to change the world and save lives.

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