Scientists have potentially found a drug to stop neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's. In 2013, a U.K Medical Research Council team stopped brain cells dying in a animal for the first time, creating headline news around the world. However, the compound used was unsuitable for people as it caused organ damage.
However, now two drugs have been prepared which have been found to have the same protective effect on the brain and are already safely used in people. Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who was the lead scientists from the MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester described the compound as “really exciting”.
Human trials are expected to take place on dementia patients soon and expects to know whether the drugs work within two or three years. The approach is focused on the neutral defence mechanisms built into brain cells. These cells respond by shutting down nearly all protein production in order to halt the virus’s spread. Many neurodegenerative diseases involve the production of faulty proteins that activate the same defences. When the brain cells shut down production for so long, they eventually starve themselves to death, therefore the process can destroy movement, memory or even kill, depending on the disease.
In the initial study, the researchers used a compound that prevented the defence mechanism kicking in. It halted the progress of prion disease in mice - which was the first time any neurodegenerative disease had been halted in any animal. The findings were described as a turning point for the field even though the compound was toxic to the pancreas.
Since 2013, the research group has tested more than 1000 ready made drugs on nematode worms, human cells in a dish and mice. The best known drug of the pair is trazodone, which is already taken by patients with depression. The other, DBM, is being tested in cancer patients. However, results from the clinical and human trials must be presented before the drugs can be utilised. Dr Doug Brown from the Alzheimer's Society said “We’re excited by the potential of these findings” and Dr David Dexter from the Parkinson’s UK said “This is a very robust and important study”.
Scientists at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Northwest A&F University in Shaanxi, China were determined to figure out a solution to one of the biggest problems facing dairy farmers around the world: tuberculosis. The scientists concluded their examinations by creating ‘designer cows’ where they were able to be resistant to this infectious disease by simply editing their genes through newly-developed technology called CRISPR, whereby allows scientists globally with access to this software to edit genes to suit the needs to accomplish different objectives (resistance to infectious diseases etc.). This advancement spares farmers from having to kill their cattle to alleviate the spread of the tuberculosis infection to the other animals on site that contribute to the dairy industry in the farm. According to the researchers, the gene led to no adverse effects on the animal, but it did greatly increase TB resistance.
Crispr technology precisely changes target parts of genetic code. Unlike other gene-silencing tools, the Crispr system targets the genome's source material and permanently turns off genes at the DNA level. The DNA cut (known as a double strand break) closely mimics the kinds of mutations that occur naturally, for instance after chronic sun exposure. But unlike UV rays that can result in genetic alterations, the Crispr system causes a mutation at a precise location in the genome. When cellular machinery repairs the DNA break, it removes a small snip of DNA. In this way, researchers can precisely turn off specific genes in the genome.
To carry out the process, the healthy gene used to create a resistance against tuberculosis was inserted into the nucleus of another kind of bovine cell (a fibroblast), taken from a cow foetus. This edited nucleus was then transferred to the egg cell of a cow. The eggs were nurtured in the laboratory, and then fertilised in the lab to form embryos. These were then inserted into the cow and developed and were born as normal. A total of 11 calves with new genes inserted using CRISPR were assessed for resistance to tuberculosis and any adverse genetic effects. From this experiment, it ensured that 11 calves would be able to develop without having the risk to carry or infect other cows which may disturb the farm’s procedures in producing the amount set by external demands - from this advancement, it would also open up many opportunities for other farmers worldwide to use this sort of technology to save money on treatment for their cattle and to produce products more efficiently in the long run.
On the 5th of January of this year, a baby girl of three parents was born. The child is the second three-parent baby the world has ever seen; the first being created in Mexico. This, however, does not disregard the fact that the method used by doctors in Kiev, was the first. They used a method called pronuclear transfer which involves three steps:
Firstly, the mother’s egg is fertilised by the father’s sperm as normal. Then, the combined genes are removed from the parents’ embryo and replaces the nucleus of the donor’s embryo. As a result, the child will contain the genetic identity of his/ her parents as well as a small amount from the donor’s.
IVF has been known to help infertile couples have babies but three-person IVF is able to do more. It allows women carrying genetic disorders to have a healthy child. An example of a genetic disorder is mitochondrial disease: one that has mutations in the mitochondria of cells, leading to the birth of disabled children. Sometimes, their disabilities can be so severe that it eventually leads to death. Three-person IVF avoids diseases like these being passed down to babies, as the donor has healthy embryos whilst keeping the DNA of the parents. The UK has laws that allow this research and experiments for couples with mitochondrial diseases. Despite this, a three-parent baby has not yet been born in Britain.
Of course, with revolutionary science comes ethical questions and controversy. It has been said that pronuclear transfer is experimental and has not actually been properly evaluated and will need further research as well as precaution. A possible question that may arise is whether or not humans are playing the role of God? Methods like these can be perceived as meddling which can offend many religions, who may think humans are acting as superiors. Some may even question the existence of a God.
As always, there is also the moral rights which need to be respected. How would the child feel about having been created by three-person IVF? Although, it could greatly reduce the population of newborns with genetic disorders and could possibly, in the long term, minimise the risks of diseases. Moreover, it can potentially increase the gene pool, as the baby would have a greater genetic variety. This means there is a higher chance of the future population surviving new-found diseases or environmental changes that could take place in the future. With this, how close are we to developing designer babies? If so, is it right that humans can manipulate life purely for our benefit?
Genetic engineering is rapidly being used by many scientists around the world, helping cure and remove many diseases and gene defects in humans. However, it is now being said that hundreds of thousands of animals are also being engineered, not just for their own benefits, but for our benefits. Throughout this article, I will be addressing the growing concerns regarding the issue, giving a run down on the benefits for humans, whilst also talking about the risks involved, both for the animals and the humans.
Genetic engineering can be used to add or remove genes in DNA. The process of the experiment is very slow, however new research and a development in technology has made the process more efficient and quicker. Some of the benefits of the process include:
To conclude this article, I think that genetic engineering should not be conducted on animals for human benefits as it is a very dangerous process which has killed thousands of innocent animals and has had effects on both the ecosystems and children of the animals.
Genetic engineering is the process to alter the structure and behaviour of the genes in human, animals and food. It involves using biological techniques such as: molecular cloning and transformation. Within these techniques, the addition and modification of DNA in organisms take place, which could help the organisms physical and behavioural adaptations, whilst also increasing its chance of survival. But the real question brought about in the modern day is: should it really be allowed?
A fear of genetic engineering is that us human may be interfering with nature, and cheating God out of his chance to decide whether we have blue or black eyes, or how intelligent we were born. There are many pros of genetic engineering, hence why it is being done many a time in the modern day. These include
To conclude, my stance of genetic engineering is that although the positives help modern day society and could undoubtedly help the future, the process goes against God’s will, and can have fatal consequences if performed incorrectly. Therefore, I am against the process.