ADRIAN Kibbler wonders whether genetic engineering may be used in the future to prevent illness – Ludlow Advertiser

LEANNE Brownhill was a 26-year-old nurse from Ludlow who sadly died young as a result of a genetic heart condition.

She suffered from cardiomyopathy, a disease that comes in three different forms but essentially damages the heart.

It can unfortunately result in the sudden death of young people who might otherwise have appeared to be fit and healthy.

The case that most people will be aware of is that of the footballer Fabrice Muamba, who aged just 23, suddenly collapsed and nearly died in an FA Cup match between his team Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur in 2012.

Indeed, when we hear of a young sportsman or woman who has died suddenly then there is a good chance that cardiomyopathy is responsible.

One of the problems with this disease is that it can be difficult to diagnose and can bring with it no obvious symptoms although in some cases there may be shortness of breath or unexplained fainting.

When the disease is diagnosed various treatments are available that can include the use of various drugs and in some cases the fitting on a defibrillator type device to kick in if the heart fails.

However, medical experts are saying that a new technique could free people of this condition that is caused by inheriting a faulty gene.

The latest breakthrough suggests that not only can the faulty gene be identified but that it can also be repaired.

Now it is important to be cautious because even if this can be advanced it is not likely to widely available anytime soon. However, the potential is huge and there would appear to be reason to hope that the technique could also be applied to other inherited conditions.

The medical and scientific issues around this are only a part of the story because this is genetic engineering.

Of course, it is desirable that when people become ill they receive the best possible treatment but this is not the same thing as genetic engineering.

Some people will argue that if medicine gives us the ability to prevent illness by repairing faulty genes then there is nothing wrong with that. After all medicine enables treatment to be given to babies even when they are in the womb so is this so different?

It has long been the case that babies can be examined for serious medical conditions as part of pre-natal screening and in some cases this can lead to a decision to terminate a pregnancy.

What makes genetic engineering different is that it creates at least potentially the ability to produce a race of perfect people and many of us are very uncomfortable about this.

After all some would argue that it is our difference including in some cases our imperfections that make us special and unique.

No one can give a definitive answer but, for example, would Beethoven have been such a great composer if he not been deaf or Stephen Hawking such a special scientist without his illness?

These are difficult questions but they will become ever more important as medical science advances and what up to now might have been considered science fiction becomes science fact.

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ADRIAN Kibbler wonders whether genetic engineering may be used in the future to prevent illness – Ludlow Advertiser

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