Genetic Engineering – Cure for HIV, eradication of Malaria
Cure for HIV, eradication of Malaria: Gene Editing holds the key
In 2015, according to a WHO report there were about 212 million cases of malaria recorded globally. out of which a staggering 429,000 cases resulted in the death of the patient.
Similarly, since its detection, HIV has been detected in over 70 million people and has resulted in the deaths of 35 million people.
Both are serious epidemics which have plagued humanity and countless efforts have gone in to rid them once and for all. Now it seems a cure is on the horizon, the name of which is Gene Editing.
So what exactly is gene editing? And why is it so revolutionary?
To understand it let’s look at a story which also forms the basis for the eradication of malaria. Let’s begin:
Long long ago, well not really, only about 20 years ago Anthony James a biologist decided he wanted to make mosquitoes. Normally when one embarks upon such a goal he usually ends up getting ostracized from the society but James wanted to create a special mosquito which was resistant to malaria.
To explain it in short, humans only get infected with malaria via a malaria-carrying mosquito’s bite. So mosquitoes with no malaria would mean the end of the problem. Though the best solution would be creating a mosquito which doesn’t bite.
James’s persistence paid off and some years ago he managed to create such a mosquito by adding genes which made malaria virus’s survival impossible.
Now he was faced with a problem about how to replace the existent mosquitoes in the nature with the malaria resistant ones. The task wasn’t as simple as asking Mother Nature to lay off the existing mosquitoes and in turn, hire the new ones.
Theoretically for replacing any native species with a new one, one needs to introduce 10 times the existing species. But infesting an area with 10 times the existing mosquitoes would in most cases result in the scientists getting beaten by a frenzied mob.
That’s when the breakthrough occurred. Biologist Ethan Bier and his student found a solution wherein the malaria resistant trait can definitely be inherited regardless of Mendelian genetics, so much so that if 1% of the total Anopheles mosquitoes are injected with this trait then malaria would disappear in as little as 1 year.
For example, they designed a red-eyed mosquito and put it into a box filled with 30 normal mosquitoes which then started to breed. They were allowed to produce 3800 mosquitoes spanning over two generations. The results were striking. According to Mendelian genetics which all reproducing organisms follow, the resultant offsprings should have had a mixture of normal and red eyes that is the box should have both normal and malaria-resistant mosquitoes.
But the results showed that stunningly all the 3800 offsprings were Malaria resistant. So how did that happen? Well, the answer is Gene editing via CRISPR.
CRISPR is a tool which is used for quick and precise gene editing. So to explain it very simply how the trait spread so absolutely, when CRISPR is inserted in a gene that gene then replicates its features in another gene and another and so on. That is when one Gene is altered; the altered gene ensures the alteration of another gene and the chain goes on.
We know this can be done and malaria can be eradicated then Gene editing must be perfect. There should be nothing that should worry us right? Except there are a few problems.
We are editing the genes of mosquitoes to make them malaria resistant but what’s stopping people from creating a malaria-carrying insect. And another problem is, once the mutation starts it cannot be stopped and would continue till all the existing organisms in the world are morphed with the mutation. So if during the process, the scientists realize that they don’t really like the mutation, there’s no way of stopping it.
But things are not as dangerous. Gene editing can only be used for reproductive species hence deadly bacteria, viruses cannot be created.
There’s another advantage. One can deal with invasive species using that process. For example if an Asian carp has infected a lake near New York, one can release a genetically edited Asian carp which only produces male off-springs and eradicate the invasive species in a few years.
There’s a problem here too. If somehow the genetically engineered carps escape to Asia which is the native land of Asian carps, the species risk possible extinction. One other issue is that the editing may not be restricted to the targeted species. That is the genetically edited Asian carps can also end up influencing other carps.
But whatever may be the disadvantage, the fact cannot be denied that the technology is revolutionarily cutting edge. So rather than focusing on the negatives which may be overcome in the future, let’s look at more positives.
Reports have indicated that this technology can be used to completely cure arthritis and HIV Aids.
When it comes to arthritis, scientists plan to introduce a vaccine wherein the stem-cells in our body mutate into cartilage which releases a natural anti-inflammatory drug which ends up providing relief from arthritis. Confused? Well, this vaccine isn’t getting injected into you anytime soon as it’s still being tested on animals so meanwhile you can study and try to figure everything out.
Finally coming to one of the most difficult diseases which has plagued mankind: HIV-AIDS. Scientists at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University have demonstrated that using Gene editing, it was possible to completely shut down and eliminate the virus from the infected cells. For long the cure for HIV was deemed complicated because of the virus’s ability to hide away in latent reservoirs. But thanks to gene editing slowly but steadily the last bastions of human health hazards might soon be crumbling.
14 May 2017 / rarikola / 0