QUESTION: What are the benefits of human genetic engineering?
The benefits of human genetic engineering can be found in the headlines nearly every day. With the successful cloning of mammals and the completion of the Human Genome Project, scientists all over the world are aggressively researching the many different facets of human genetic engineering. These continuing breakthroughs have allowed science to more deeply understand DNA and its role in medicine, pharmacology, reproductive technology, and countless other fields.
The most promising benefit of human genetic engineering is gene therapy. Gene therapy is the medical treatment of a disease by repairing or replacing defective genes or introducing therapeutic genes to fight the disease. Over the past ten years, certain autoimmune diseases and heart disease have been treated with gene therapy. Many diseases, such as Huntington's disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), and cystic fibrosis are caused by a defective gene. The hope is that soon, through genetic engineering, a cure can be found for these diseases by either inserting a corrected gene, modifying the defective gene, or even performing genetic surgery. Eventually the hope is to completely eliminate certain genetic diseases as well as treat non-genetic diseases with an appropriate gene therapy.
Currently, many pregnant women elect to have their fetuses screened for genetic defects. The results of these screenings can allow the parents and their physician to prepare for the arrival of a child who may have special needs before, during, and after delivery. One possible future benefit of human genetic engineering is that, with gene therapy, a fetus w/ a genetic defect could be treated and even cured before it is born. There is also current research into gene therapy for embryos before they are implanted into the mother through in-vitro fertilization.
Another benefit of genetic engineering is the creation pharmaceutical products that are superior to their predecessors. These new pharmaceuticals are created through cloning certain genes. Currently on the market are bio-engineered insulin (which was previously obtained from sheep or cows) and human growth hormone (which in the past was obtained from cadavers) as well as bio-engineered hormones and blood clotting factors. The hope in the future is to be able to create plants or fruits that contain a certain drug by manipulating their genes in the laboratory.
The field of human genetic engineering is growing and changing at a tremendous pace. With these changes come several benefits and risks. These benefits and risks must be weighed in light of their moral, spiritual, legal, and ethical perspectives. The potential power of human genetic engineering comes with great responsibility.
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