Technology has advanced in all areas and sectors including the medical field. New techniques have been designed in medicine to help improve healthcare services. One of these innovations is gene therapy. Gene therapy is a technique that makes use of genes to either prevent or treat a disease. This type of therapy involves transplantation of normal genes into the body cells with the purpose of treating genetic disorders or replacing missing genes. The gene transplanted is carefully selected in order to correct the effects caused by a mutated gene that causes disease.
There are two main types of gene therapy that are based on the cells being treated. One type is referred to as the Somatic gene therapy which involves the transfer of DNA to a body cell that does not produce eggs or sperms. This ensures that the patient’s children do not suffer the effects of the therapy. The other kind of therapy is the Germline gene therapy which is aimed at transferring the effects of the therapy to the patient’s offspring because the DNA is transferred to cells responsible for reproduction hence affects future generations (Wirth, 2013).
Gene therapy can be carried out in various techniques such as gene augmentation, gene inhibition and killing of particular cells. Augmentation type of therapy is used to treat mutation-caused diseases. In this therapy, functional DNA matching the lost gene is added back into the body cell. The new gene added produces enough protein to replace what was originally missing. However, this type of gene therapy is only effective if the disease has not completely damaged the body and can be reversed. On the other hand, gene inhibition technique is used in treatment of infectious or inherited diseases and cancer caused by incorrect gene activity. This technique is aimed at eliminating the gene activity that encourages growth of cells carrying the disease (Wirth, 2013). Killing of particular cells works by adding DNA into the disease-carrier cell that kills the cell hence stopping the disease.
Social and Ethical Implications behind Gene Therapy
Since gene therapy involves altering of the body’s DNA, it is bound to raise some ethical concerns among people. Most concerns fall on the germline type of gene therapy because it targets the reproductive cells. While this type of therapy may prevent future generations from suffering certain genetic disorders, it also has its effects. Research shows that germline therapy could have significant effects on the fetus and its development. It could be even worse when those effects are noticed way into the child’s development maybe even when they are already adults and can pass the same disorders to their children.
Errors caused by gene insertion can be fatal which has caused ethical issue because those receiving the gene are not yet even born hence do not get to have a say in a matter that could affect the rest of their lives. During research on germline therapy, if the disease to be treated is identified in a fetus, it complicates the issue which causes regular creation and destruction of embryos during research. This poses a social issue because it is basically murder of an unborn child. It may difficult for some people to understand why one should be implanted with a defective embryo only to later destroy it (Sade, 1998).
There are also social concerns related to gene therapy because of the involved costs. Although the technique may be effective in eliminating diseases such as cancer and function disorders such as cystic fibrosis, it may not be able to help many people. Gene therapy normally requires individual step-by-step approach which may be take a long time in hospitals conducting tests and other related procedures which may be very expensive. This means that the therapy can only help the wealthy who are able to pay for it leaving the less fortunate at a disadvantage. Medical breakthroughs are made with the aim of helping as many people as possible but the costs related with gene therapy make this impossible to achieve (Sade, 1998).
Personal Viewpoint on Gene Therapy
Personally, I think gene therapy as a technique for treatment of gene disorders and diseases is better than use of numerous medications that may have to be used for a lifetime. However, there are some aspects of gene therapy that I do not agree with especially the germline gene therapy technique. I believe that a human being’s body is very precious and only an individual should have the power to decide what should be done or not done to their bodies.
However, with gene therapy, this is not the case because the parents decide for their children and their entire generation on how their bodies will be and function. I believe that those children have the right to make their own decisions on the issue. It would be very sad if the genes added into the children’s’ body cells have negative effects on their growth and lives (Anderson, 1989). No parent would live with themselves knowing they made a decision that ruined their children’s lives. I believe the somatic gene therapy is a better choice since it does not target the reproductive cells. In this case, even if the children are later born with a certain disorder, they can have the freedom to decide how they want it fixed.
Looking at the costs associated with gene therapy, I feel that it does not do much for the low-income people. This technique is obviously expensive and considering the many procedures involved, it is bound to get even more costly by the time all the research is completed. I believe gene therapy has the answer to some of the deadliest diseases such as cancer which nowadays affect even young children. However, with the costs involved, treatment for such diseases may remain to be just a dream for many in the society. The government could do more in helping make these technique accessible to more people if it is to really make a difference and change lives.
There are tremendous advancements in medicine that have come up over the years. It is important for people to take time to understand what all techniques or types of treatments involve before making decisions on what type of treatment to take. For me, treatment options are not about just costs, it is also about the future consequences it may have and about my conscious. I would not want to do something that I would regret for the rest of my life. Gene therapy has the power to transform lives either positively or negatively. Thorough knowledge of all issues involved could help patients make the right decisions. Although most of gene therapy techniques are still in the experimental stage, they are bound to bring major transformations in the medical field.
Anderson, W. F. (1989). Human gene therapy: why draw a line? Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 681-693.
Sade, R. M. (1998). Gene therapy: Ethical and social issues. Journal-South Carolina Medical Association, 406-410.
Wirth, T. P.-H. (2013). History of gene therapy. Gene 525, 162-169.