Bioethics Blogs

A CRISPR View of Life

By Shweta Sahu
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We now live in a society where many are trying to get a leg up where they can, whether it be through pharmacological neuroenhancement (like Ritalin and Adderall) or other neurotechnologies (like transcranial direct current simulation). Technology also allows us to exert an even earlier influence on neurodevelopmental disorders through prenatal genetic testing for fetuses. Such technologies include amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, that screen for Down’s, Edwards’ and Patau’s syndromes, and give parents the chance to decide whether they would like to terminate or continue with their pregnancy. One article even claims 53% of all pregnancies were aborted following prenatal diagnoses of Down’s Syndrome, though there is still much dispute over the exact numbers.

More recently, research has turned to looking into how to intervene at even earlier stages with gene editing of embryos. CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a naturally occurring bacterial defense mechanism, that when combined with certain enzymes, like “Cas” (CRISPR associated proteins), enable scientists to manipulate the gene sequence of an organism. CRISPR technology brings to life the idea that we can edit genes by either inserting or cutting out specific DNA sequences. Among the vast, exciting biomedical applications of this CRISPR/ Cas system are some promising leads, such as developing CRISPR based disease models. Diseases like schizophrenia and autism involve many genes and using CRISPR, one lab has been able to recreate the genetic mutations and investigate the “faulty” neurons that play a role in these conditions in animal models more efficiently.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.