Our DNA has the power to unlock endless stories of who we are and where we came from, but what if we could change it forever? 44-year old Brian Madeux may be among the first to know: Last month, Madeux was the first individual to receive in-body gene editing, in an attempt to treat his Hunter Syndrome, a rare metabolic condition tied to a genetic mutation.
To carry out this groundbreaking therapy, scientists flooded Madeux’s body via IV with billions of copies of a corrective gene, as well as with a gene editor known as zinc finger nuclease (ZFN), intended to insert the new gene into his DNA.
It’s such an innocuous name for such a mind-boggling tool, but the CRISPR gene editing technology has the potential to transform the face of modern medicine.
CRISPR is an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which will mean nothing to anyone without a Ph.D. in molecular biology. But the technology is built on the backs of worker proteins that have been designed to both fix and disable mutations in cellular DNA. It’s a breathtaking and elegant solution for anyone suffering from a genetic disease that works — analogously — like cutting and pasting a page in a book.
Gene editing and genetic modification may seem like something from the far-off future, but as it turns out, the future is now. Scientists have proven they can successfully edit the genes of human embryos and eliminate hereditary genetic diseases. It’s the first time this type of experiment has occurred in the United States.
A world without cystic fibrosis, diabetes or muscular dystrophy. A world free of painful and degenerative diseases. Until now, this occurred only within the pages of utopian novels, but U.K. fertility regulators, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), recently approved the editing of genes in human embryos. This study could shed light on how to eradicate such diseases completely. The U.K. is the first country in the world to take this step, but the possibility of fiction becoming reality has raised ethical concerns.