Medical research is manipulated by the government

The gene scissors CRISPR-Cas9 Genome editing - germline intervention


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A magic box in genetic engineering: With the help of genetic scissors, the genome of living beings can be changed without leaving any traces. The revolutionary method offers great opportunities, but also immense risks.

Status: 04.12.2020

Genome editing is a technique that is set to revolutionize medicine. Put simply, it is gene surgery that removes or replaces a defective or disease-causing gene in a living cell with a kind of precise pair of scissors. Originally intended for bacterial systems, it is now used in all living organisms. This could be used in medicine to treat genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia, but also cancer or HIV infections.

Discussion about ethical responsibility

While germline therapy is generally banned in Germany, researchers at the Human Gene Editing World Summit in Washington in December 2015 spoke out against a moratorium. There should be basic research and experiments on germ cells and embryos - as in China and Great Britain; the birth of so-called designer babies is ruled out for the time being.

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Nobel Prize for CRISPR / Cas - How gene scissors are changing our lives | beta stories | Documentation | BR

British researchers modified the genome of embryos

Despite the appeal from Washington, two months later, on February 1, 2016, the British authorities allowed scientists to work on the genetic modification of healthy human embryos using the CRISPR-Cas9 technique. The researchers around Kathy Niakanam at the Francis Crick Institute in London wanted to learn more about the first moments of human life. To do this, shortly after fertilization, they switched off the OCT4 gene in the genome of 41 embryos, which plays a key role in early embryonic development. The experiments on the embryos were carried out in the first seven days after fertilization.

Genome editing - when parents want to upgrade their child's genetic makeup.

The researchers published their results on September 21, 2017 in the British journal "Nature". With their research, the scientists wanted to increase the success rate of artificial inseminations. Currently, only 13 out of 100 fertilized egg cells manage to develop in the female body. However, the changed embryos could not be implanted into a woman, emphasized the competent authority for human fertilization and embryology (HFEA).

"I don't think that's a good thing. What is the purpose of manipulating human germline cells? It is better to prohibit germline experiments than to restrict them in a cumbersome manner."

Emmanuelle Charpentier, co-inventor of the gene scissors CRISPR-Cas9

Germline interventions irresponsible, but cannot be ruled out

Ethics Council recommends: an international moratorium

Peter Dabrock, Head of the German Ethics Council, on the opportunities and risks of CRISPR

On May 9, 2019, the German Ethics Council presented a statement in which it ethically comprehensively examined the possibilities of intervening in the genome of human embryos or germ cells. The Ethics Council does not consider the human germ line to be inviolable. Nevertheless, he currently judges germline interventions to be ethically irresponsible because of their unforeseeable risks. The Ethics Council therefore calls for a moratorium and recommends the Federal Government and the Bundestag to work towards a binding international agreement.

No uniform position in the ethics council

The German Ethics Council also renewed its call for a broad national and international discourse on the subject. And he recommended the establishment of an international institution that accompanies this process and develops standards for germ line interventions in humans, comparable to the atomic energy authority in Vienna. However, there is also no uniform position in the Ethics Council as to whether interventions in the human germ line are sensible at all. A large majority, however, assess the further development and use of technology to avoid or reduce genetically determined disease risks as an "ethically legitimate goal".

"We see that in research, especially in the field of medicine, work is carried out with the same intensity with the gene scissors. It is tantamount to a gold rush atmosphere."

Peter Dabrock, theologian at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and head of the German Ethics Council

Genetic engineering method with revolutionary explosive power

The researchers Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier discovered the CRISPR-Cas9 method together.

The focus of the discussion is on the so-called CRISPR method, which is viewed as revolutionary in research circles. There are three main reasons for this: firstly, the method is incredibly fast, secondly, it is extremely inexpensive and thirdly, it is very easy to use.

The use of gene scissors also involves other fields of application that are less drastic than hereditary interference in the human germ line: CRISPR-Cas9 also appears extremely attractive for medical therapies or for agriculture.

More environmentally friendly nutrition for a growing world population?

First publication of the CRISPR-Cas9 method

On August 17, 2013, the French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and the US biochemist Jennifer Doudna published their study in the journal "Science". They used CRISPR-Cas9 specifically for genome editing, i.e. to remove, insert and change DNA. The method was immediately considered by experts as the coup of the century and a nobel prize. In 2020 the dream came true: Charpentier and Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together.

Yeast cells that produce biofuels, rapeseed that is resistant to pesticides, genetically modified salmon that grows many times faster than wild salmon - these are examples from biological research. What if trees could be "rebuilt" with gene scissors in such a way that they can better withstand an increasingly warmer and drier climate? What if, thanks to CRISPR-Cas9, wheat were so resilient and productive that less use of chemicals and irrigation would be necessary? No more shredding of male chicks because the "male" eggs are already fluorescing? The dreams are varied and big.

But also fear: The result is genetically modified plants or animals that are introduced into nature with their modified genetic make-up. In the USA, plants that have been modified by gene scissors are already in the fields. According to the Federal Association of German Plant Breeders, no plants modified with CRISPR-Cas9 are currently in use in Germany (as of December 2020).

CRISPR gene scissors are subject to strict EU guidelines

In agriculture, the new genetic engineering process is subject to the strict requirements of the EU genetic engineering rules. This was decided by the European Court of Justice on July 25, 2018. For example, plants that have been processed with the CRISPR gene scissors must be labeled as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Food containing such GMOs must be labeled accordingly. So far, they have rarely appeared in German supermarkets because consumers generally reject such products.

Hope in medicine

But scientists in medical research are also electrified by the possibilities of genome editing. It doesn't have to be a germline intervention. With CRISPR-Cas9, therapies with gene scissors are also possible, in which body cells are removed from a patient, modified with the gene scissors and brought back into the body. And then fight cancer, for example. Research is already being carried out on some CRISPR-Cas9 therapies, such as sickle cell anemia, but none have been approved (as of December 2020).

In laboratories, on the other hand, gene scissors are often part of everyday life: CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to specifically breed tissues or test animals that are used, for example, in drug research.

Researchers have already started researching human embryos - but they were not viable. This heated up the debate about CRISPR-Cas9. In addition, diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure are too complex to be edited, the defect lies in several genes, all of which are not yet known.

Moderately or excessively beyond the goal?

What should be possible with gene surgery? Ethics councils around the world are discussing this.

The question therefore arises as to how far one can go with this new gene method. Changes in individual body cells such as blood or liver cells are viewed in research as less problematic because they are not viable. The debate becomes more difficult when it comes to intervening in the germ line of a person using the CRISPR method, because then sperm and egg cells are manipulated. This means that the changes not only affect the respective organism, but also its offspring, i.e. the human genome is permanently changed.

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