This article discussed how the (relatively) new technology of CRISPR gene editing is soon to be used as an experimental treatment for lung cancer patients. This is a huge step forward in genetics, and while some accuse China of moving too fast, this method seems to show a lot of promise, or at least a lot of people seem to think it does. The little section of this article that popped out to me was the fact that they admit that it is possible for the modified cells to strike out against things other than the tumor they are created to oppose.
The gene that is being removed in this trial is the gene that codes for protein PD-1, a protein that limits auto immune responses. By removing this gene, this protein will cease to be created, and therefore will allow the cells to strike out against the tumor without hindrance, at least, that's the idea. What stuck out to me was the fact that it is also possible that these modified cells stride out against other parts of the body, parts that could be very harmful to a person, especially an already ill one.
They even acknowledge this possibility in the article, however the scientists behind the study cite previously done trials that similarly block the PD-1 protein, saying that they, "did not see a high rate of autoimmune response." What really stands out to me here is how this potential danger is seen, known, acknowledged, and then justified. How have these scientists determined that the possible benefits outweigh the possible harmful effects? While they do state that the trial will start of with small amounts and then slowly increase with close monitoring, this is a big risk to be taking, especially as the true effects are really quite unknown. This is delving more into the ethics of thing than the actual science, however I found it appalling that a justification made by a small group of people could jeopardize lives if their judgements are wrong.
On the other side of this, if their evidence that "a high rate of autoimmune response was not seen" is true, could it not be possible that the same limited response would be taken on the tumor? What if their "safety" is a factor that makes the treatment not very effective? In this case then the scientists would be potentially risking the safety of the subjects for a very small result. This article really made me think about how being a scientist is about so much more than science, especially in the power of judgement we rely on them to have.