Author: Mark Dowd

In the coming decades many technologies are going to align in such a way that it significantly improves healthcare, here we’ll take a look at the one that has the potential to be the most impactful – CRISPR/Cas9.

But first; we’ll have to re-evaluate a couple of things, one of these might be our perception of what ageing is. There are calls from some prominent scientists to have ageing diagnosed as a disease, the most prominent of these scientists is Aubrey De Grey:

 

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Aubrey De Grey – The man who wants to cure the diseases of ageing

 

Aubrey De Grey claims that the world is in a “pro-ageing trance”, he says that this trance has lead us to accept ageing and death as a natural part of life, one that’s unavoidable and unchangeable, but according to Aubrey that’s not true and the technology to remedy this may be available in the future.

He posits that the diseases associated with ageing – Alzheimer’s, Sarcopenia, Arthritis, Parkinson’s disease…etc should all be included within the category of one overarching disease – Ageing itself. Aubrey is an advocate of having ageing classified as a disease, he says that this would make it easier to attain funding to study the diseases associated with ageing.

There are several existing technologies that could help to treat the “disease” of ageing, one of these is CRISPR. CRISPR is a gene-editing technology that could allow the alteration of human genetic traits.

 

CRISPR/Cas9 – Human germline editing:

Yes, human genetic engineering, eugenics, whatever your opinion on the issue it’s something we in the West will eventually be forced to confront. With countries like China carrying out intensive research on the genes associated with IQ, the Western world may soon have to re-examine its stance and outlook on human genetic engineering. The current restrictions on the field in Europe and America could lead to dire consequences. If other countries, ones that we’re competing with, invest heavily in this field, we may be at a serious disadvantage in the future.

 

Before eugenics was perceived as a taboo, it was routinely practised in the West. countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, France, Great Britain, Germany, the United States, and many more advocated eugenic policies, some of these policies included the sterilisation of “undesirable individuals” and encouraging healthy high achieving couples to reproduce while disincentivising the reproduction of poor, unhealthy individuals.

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When gene editing technologies are available to people, decisions will have to be made over whether the human germ line should be altered;  the germline in a multicellular organism is the population of its bodily cells that are so differentiated or segregated that in the usual processes of reproduction they may pass on their genetic material to the progeny.

If a human genetically alters themselves, do they have a responsibility to their progeny to make sure that they make responsible changes to their germline? Should certain heritable conditions be eradicated? Downs syndrome and other chromosomal disorders could be eliminated entirely, but is this a good thing?

The use of gene editing technologies could cure the most debilitating genetic diseases and could significantly increase life and healthspan, but could also lead to genetic enhancement and designer babies, the line between the two isn’t clear cut and when the time comes to decide what to do with these technologies it will undoubtedly be politically charged.

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