Caught in the middle (Dec 2018) — the CRISPR edited
A dedication to the two lives that have been changed by one man’s mistake and the unwarranted use of CRISPR.
Now and then, a new field finds itself at a crossroads, where it is put to test, judged, defamed, mistrusted and even used as a tabloid.
Every day we are witnessing some new detail coming to light about the twin girls whose genes were genetically modified by the Chinese researcher He Jiankui. We, as biomedical scientists & molecular biologists, stir uncomfortably in our seats knowing that one of us might have put an entire field of study in jeopardy by being too hasty.
With knowledge comes power, and with power comes responsibility.
I hope that doesn’t happen to CRISPR.
I hope CRISPR as a technology can recover from this because quite simply put, it is one of the most elegant gene editing tools that exist in biotechnology today.
But even more than that, I hope the two baby girls (and supposedly another child) will be ok;
because, for no fault of their own, they will find themselves caught in the middle, perhaps for many decades to come.
For no fault of their own, they will reap the results of one man’s mistake who played with the code of human life even before we understood its language, blatantly disregarding ethical, legal, or even scientific considerations.
Over the past few weeks as more details of the incident came to light, I tried to make sense of my emotions as many of us might have had to do so. When everyday mill molecular biology terms like crispr cas9, gene editing, genomics which are usually incubation break conversations become mainstream news for not so pleasant reasons.
In situations where every friend/family member asks you just exactly what CRISPR is. What power does it have? What exactly do scientists do with it, and whatever happened to bioethics? And I try and explain how bioethics was one of our first modules in university and how one person’s choices do not reflect on the field. Do not. Should not.
I tell them about the thousands of labs across the planet that utilize the CRISPR technology daily to advance our understanding of basic molecular and genetic systems.
And that we unanimously understand the dangers and just the plethora of ethical concerns that surround applying untested technology to humans.
I drew this graphic while I read, watched, heard the news, the terrible details that keep coming to light, and couldn’t stop thinking about the two girls and wondering how their lives will turn out to be.
Not just because of the gene editing and health concerns, but also because of the media glare they might face as they grow up, and the emotional, psychological toll of what they might have to bear.
They are truly caught in the middle and my heart goes out to them.