In 2015, Jennifer Doudna, an RNA researcher at UC Berkeley, discovered an extraordinary gene editing mechanism called CRISPR that has the ability to delete genes causing diseases and harm. CRISPR works by utilizing an enzyme called Cas9 that cuts a strand of faulty DNA in a specified location, along with the help of guide RNA, which guides the enzyme to the target location. CRISPR has now become a revolutionary biomedical tool that has the potential to save millions of lives, eradicate lethal diseases, and transform the future of medicine forever.
As biomedical technology rapidly advances, treatment of patients becomes more precise and genetic-based as we learn which genes cause specific diseases. CRISPR was recently harnessed to eradicate HIV in a living organism. As we learn more about deadly diseases such as cancer that are deeply rooted in individual genes, we have discovered that the cure is not a certain medication, but an application that can fix these mutated genes. This past year, CRISPR has been used to cut out genes that trigger abnormal tumor growth; this enormously powerful technology has now been shown to stop cancer in human patients. In 2015, the life of an eighteen month old girl with leukemia named Layla Richards was saved thanks to gene editing. Her doctors edited the genes of white blood cells to have them attack and delete her mutated DNA that was causing leukemia. Layla recovered from a disease that had been thought to be incurable and has been living cancer free for the past two years.
CRISPR has raised ethical concerns for many who think the technology should not be used for fear of its enormous, almost godlike capabilities, but Doudna herself, aware of the great power of her discovery, has been at the forefront of making sure that CRISPR is used in an ethical manner and that its implications are thoroughly researched. Before gene editing is used, all cases are carefully reviewed by scientific and ethical panels.
CRISPR is also being used to try and eradicate diseases caused by mosquitoes such as malaria and even Zika. Scientists are using CRISPR to disrupt female mosquitoes’ fertility genes, ensuring that they cannot reproduce offspring who will also carry these lethal viruses. The mosquitoes that carry these diseases will die off and help humans quickly wipe out malaria at a low cost. In 2006, the World Health Organization was given 688 million dollars to fight malaria in Africa. Billions of dollars could be saved as researchers now have the potential to wipe out diseases that have plagued humanity for hundreds of years by modifying a few thousand mosquito embryos in a matter of hours..
This powerful and important cutting-edge technology has now thrust us into an era in which we will be able to live without Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, and possibly all genetic diseases. We now have the power to save countless lives and eradicate most diseases known to the world in a economical and effective manner. In a world of health scares and countless reports of devastating illnesses, this may seem to be something of the future, but the opportunity is here. We cannot allow fear of the unknown to hinder us from the prospect of saving countless lives, while additionally improving countless others. The question is now whether we will continue treating diseases with often ineffective, standard medication, as we are now, or move on with this astounding scientific discovery and use the tremendous potential of CRISPR to precisely target and eradicate diseases, and improve global human health forever.