Alexander Says Gene Editing Technology, When Used Properly, Has The Potential To Transform Human Health

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander on Tuesday said that “gene editing technology, like CRISPR-cas9, has the potential to transform human health, when used properly.”

He said, “CRISPR is a form of gene editing that essentially uses molecules that can be targeted to act as scissors to cut and edit genes. In a way, it is like cutting and pasting in a computer document. That may be an oversimplification, but this technology is less expensive, more precise, and more readily available to scientists all over the world than other gene editing technologies.

“The most widespread use until now has been in agriculture, to create disease-resistant wheat and rice, and modify tomatoes and soybeans to improve yields. CRISPR’s use in humans is more recent, but the possibility of the diseases it could treat and the lives that could be improved is remarkable.

“This includes diseases that currently have limited treatments or cures. Researchers see the possibility of treating blood diseases and sickle cell disease, improving the amount of time immune cells are active in fighting tumors, or even identifying, and then treating, a predisposition to Alzheimer’s.

“While CRISPR has amazing potential, it is not hard to see how we can quickly get into societal and ethical issues. The technology could lead to permanent changes to the human genome, and there is even the possibility of making changes in embryos to create so-called ‘designer babies.’ And in the hands of our adversaries, CRISPR poses national security concerns through the potential to produce new biological weapons.

“Part of our job on this committee is to learn about new technologies, to lead discussions with experts about the implications of these scientific advancements and to ensure that the National Institutes of Health and others have the proper authority to oversee and conduct research.”

The committee held a hearing on Tuesday on CRISPR to learn more about the technology from expert witnesses. Witnesses included Dr. Matthew Porteus, associate professor of Pediatrics at Stanford University; Katrine Bosley, chief executive officer and president of Editas Medicine; and Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics at John Hopkins School of Public Health.

Alexander’s full remarks are here. 

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