Challenges & Issues: Download PDF

Gene editing technologies have enormous potential benefits, but like other developing technologies, have limitations and risks.

  • Ethical concerns arise when genome editing, using technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9, is used to alter human genomes.

       

  • Most of the changes introduced with genome editing are limited to somatic cells, which are cells other than egg and sperm cells. These changes affect only certain tissues and are not passed from one generation to the next. However, changes made to genes in egg or sperm cells (germline cells) or in the genes of an embryo could be passed to future generations.
  • Germline cell and embryo genome editing bring up a number of ethical challenges, including whether it would be permissible to use this technology to enhance normal human traits (such as height or intelligence).
  • Based on concerns about ethics and safety, germline cell and embryo genome editing are currently illegal in many countries.

What is the difference between Somatic Gene Editing and Germline Gene Editing?

Somatic Gene Editing

Germline Gene Editing

Edit

Somatic therapies target genes in specific types of cells.

For example- Blood Cells

Germline modifications are made so early in development that any change is copied into all of the new cells.

Copy

The edited gene is contained only in the target cell type. No other types of cells are affected.

The edited gene is copied in every cell, including sperm or eggs.

Next-generation

Any changes are limited to the targeted individual. It is not passed down to future generations.

The edited gene is passed on to future generations.

 

Concerns in India:

  • Poor management: Based on the management of scientific technology in the past, it is uncertain whether or not the current regulatory landscape in India would be capable of enforcing the regulation of such an immensely powerful technology in a safe and ethical manner.
  • Mishandling: Past developments in genetic technology have been mishandled, demonstrating the capacity (or lack thereof) of India’s regulatory organisations.
    • For example, take the development of genetically modified crops. While the permissibility of these was still being debated in parliament, they were being illegally and prematurely sown in Gujarat in spades because of their perceived profitability.
  • Corruption: This was largely a result of corrupt practices in Indian regulatory agencies. In the medical field, India has even gone so far as to ban the clinical use of stem cell therapy because of “rampant malpractice” and the inability to regulate its commercial use.
  • Misuse & manipulation: There is little discouragement of the misuse and manipulation of medical technology for personal or commercial gain.
  • Black market for human organs: The extensive growth of black markets for human organs and counterfeit medicine in India is the greatest testament to this statement.

 

The above issues paint an alarming picture of the state of regulation with regard to medical services in India and raise several concerns when considering the regulation of profitable gene-editing technology.

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