What's going on with gene-editing technology? While research advances in its search for genetic engineering solutions to the degenerative diseases that drag most of us to an early grave, there has been an increasing global effort to put into place appropriate regulations for using existing findings in genome editing, especially with applications that could have a profound impact on each of us. That will include not only human reproductive health, but also in another area where there is a huge opportunity for gene editing – agriculture. Both areas of progress will need to be approached with caution, however.
Within the next ten years, pioneers in the field say we’re likely to see much more high-quality prediction about health outcomes for people that are based on their genetics. Not only that, but increasingly we’ll see genome editing being used for preventive health care, not just for treating disease or curing existing disease. Thus far there has been considerable progress in treating cancer and in treating blood disorders like sickle-cell anemia, so the outlook is encouraging.
One area that needs a lot more attention is further consideration of cost and access. How do we afford genome editing? How do we make it accessible to as many people as possible globally? The answers may have to come from additional technological development with respect to how we will manufacture the molecules that can be used for gene editing and how we will deliver these new medications.
In the near term, within the next five years, it very likely will be possible to make essentially any kind of change or edit to any genome in any living celled organism with precision. Researchers say we are very close to being able to do that right now in the laboratory. It may be longer, however, before it is possible to make those kinds of genome edits in actual patients. The next step will be developing ways to effectively deliver these gene-editing tools to the medical community at large to begin widespread implementation. Only then will genomics be able to rewrite the way we administer medical treatments and redefine disease prevention.