Is Gene Editing Safe for Humanity?

by Dani Lasher, Vaxxter Contributor
This is a first in a series of articles that will expose little-known scientific research on how Science and Pharma are destroying health, eliminating parental choice and negatively impacting the family. 

Using specifically modified mice, Griffin University researchers of Queensland, Australia may have found a cure for cervical cancer.

In a study published August 2019 (online) in Molecular Therapy nanoparticles called PEGylated liposomes were injected into the bloodstream of mice with cancerous tumors. Using a technique called gene-editing, the cancer cells were rendered unrecognizable and the result was a new, cancer-free cell. In the study, gene editing eliminated cancer cells in 100% of the mice.

The gene-editing technology used is called CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”), which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. CRISPRs are specialized stretches of DNA that can be inserted into defective genomes to alter or repair defective DNA sequences and modify gene function. Gene editing has many potential applications, from correcting genetic defects to treating chronic illnesses to preventing the spread of infection to improving the yield of crops. Although this particular study targeted cervical cancer, researchers are intensely investigating how gene editing may also resolve other forms of cancer, too.

CRISPR is actually a shorter name of the actual tool, called CRISPR-Cas9. The protein Cas9 (called “CRISPR-associated”) is an enzyme that acts like a pair of molecular scissors, capable of cutting strands of DNA. As explained by LiveScience.com – 

“CRISPR technology was adapted from the natural defense mechanisms of bacteria and archaea (the domain of single-celled microorganisms). These organisms use CRISPR-derived RNA and various Cas proteins, including Cas9, to fend off attacks by viruses and other foreign bodies. The proteins primarily do this by chopping up and destroying the DNA of a foreign invader. When these components are transferred into other, more complex, organisms, it allows for the manipulation of genes, or “editing.”

Genome editing isn’t new, but many scientists favor CRISPR-Cas9 because it’s less expensive and more efficient. Slivers of RNA are used as a compass, directing the Cas9 endonuclease enzyme to a specific location in a DNA segment. The enzyme slices the entire DNA content of a single cell, known as its ‘genome, into two or more parts, leaving it unviable. 

A British Medical Journal review says:

“The CRISPR-Cas9 technology can correct errors and even turn on or off genes in the cells of organisms quickly, cheaply and with relative ease.”

But is “cheap” the correct way to describe CRISPR-Cas9?

The Cost of the Cure

Many scientists are apprehensive about gene editing. Curing cancer is certainly a noble cause. But is the trade-off worth the investment?

Gene editing may eventually enable modern medicine to eliminate diseases at the cellular level, but the results aren’t guaranteed. Even more, the process can result in:

  • Chromosomal mismatching, leading to an unpredictable rearrangement of human DNA;
  • The death of genes necessary for health and overall survival;
  • Genetic mutations that trigger cancerous cells; and
  • Unintended consequences for future generations.

Causing Cancer in an Attempt to Cure It

In the Molecular Therapy study, it was noted that gene editing isn’t as benign as tweaking an isolated gene. As pointed out in a very recently published (2019) article in Nature, the Cas9 enzyme can slice the gene in the wrong place. What if that damaged gene was a protective factor against illness? Non-specific gene editing could open a floodgate of unexpected disease.

In June 2018 the highly reputable journal, Scientific American, reported that editing cells with CRISPR-Cas9 may lead to disastrous results.  According to the article:

Scientists found that cells whose genomes are successfully edited by CRISPR-Cas9 have the potential to seed tumors [cancer] inside a patient. According to researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and, separately, researchers from Novartis, they reported that CRISPR’d cells could be equated to ticking time bombs.

A 2015 study published in Protein & Cell showcased how Cas9 can cause genetic mutations in human embryos. Since gene mutations can cause diseases like Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, phenylketonuria and a long list of other genetically linked conditions, the nonspecific way genes are edited can potentially be a huge problem.

Cancer doesn’t always occur from a direct cause. Factors like tobacco smoke and environmental toxins can mutate genes through epigenetics, the changes that can occur in genes through a variety of mechanisms, DNA methylation, histone modifications, and microRNA (miRNA) expression. All of these are contributors to cancer.

An article published in Subcellular Biochemistry credits a protein called p53 with the ability to provide “molecular first-aid” to modified genes. P53 can either mend the damaged DNA or it can view the change as irreparable and cause cell death.

A 2018 Nature Medicine study found that slicing through the DNA double helix with CRISPR-Cas9 activates p53. If p53 doesn’t fix or eliminate the damaged cell, gene editing can lead to a horrifying result: The cell can progress to cancer. Emma Haapaniemi, the lead author of the Nature Medicine study, told Scientific American that it appeared other researchers have noticed the carcinogenic effect of p53 protein with CRISPR, though they didn’t highlight such. Quality research that reports all findings is necessary before moving forward. A mutated, or defective, p53 protein has been associated with:

  • 47% of ovarian cancer
  • 43% of colon cancer
  • 43% of esophageal cancer
  • 40% of head and neck cancer
  • 38% of lung cancer
  • 25% of breast cancer
  • …and many more

Screening for a p53 protein dysfunction has been considered in the past but is not routinely done. Industry seems to be sidestepping this important step in their pursuit to manipulate the human genome. We have seen medical faux pas akin to these before, such as ignoring the possible association between abnormal MTHFR “snips” and vaccinations.

The Pros and Cons of Editing

Proponents of gene editing praise its ability to remove abnormal hereditary genes. Such a practice can benefit families that carry genetic risks for diseases like cystic fibrosis. A Cell Stem Cell study used CRISPR/Cas-9 to repair mutations of the CFTR, cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductor receptor, the protein responsible for causing CF. After restoring the functionality of the CFTR, the cystic fibrosis resolved in study animals.

CRISPR/Cas-9 may also be useful in mitigating infectious diseases such as HIV. A study in the National Academy of Sciences reports,

“RNA-guided HIV-1 genome cleavage by the Cas9 technology has shown promising efficacy in disrupting the HIV-1 genome in latently infected cells, suppressing viral gene expression and replication, and immunizing uninfected cells against HIV-1 infection. These properties may provide a viable path toward a permanent cure for AIDS, and provide a means to vaccinate against other pathogenic viruses.”

The whole point of gene editing is to purposefully cause genetic mutations.  If that sounds bizarre, it’s because it is.

Too Many Unanswered Questions 

In 2017,  a study in Nature reported the potential for CRISPR-Cas9 to cause multiple genetic mutations, but critics demanded a retraction. Gaeten Burgio, a geneticist at the John Curtin School of Medical Research called the Nature study a “failure in the peer review process.” Perhaps, but many scientists seem to agree and have affirmed that mutations occur frequently enough using CRISPR-Cas9 that the technology is not ready for human use.

Human clinical trials using CRISP-Cas9 biotechnology are underway in America, having started in China. In 2018, Chinese researcher, He Jiankui, announced the birth of twins he claimed to have genetically edited as embryos to remove the potential for HIV infection. The gene-editing community expressed outrage, and his University employer issued a formal statement noting they had no knowledge of his research.

Researchers published in another recent (2018) Nature article their analysis of CRISPR edits and found many segments of DNA were missing — sometimes several thousand segments long. They also discovered pieces of DNA had been coupled that didn’t belong together, noting these findings were “prevalent in all three of the cell types they tested, including a kind of human cell grown in the laboratory.” What is being created in the lab? Altering the human genome could make it impossible to turn back. 

The medical journal, Blood, published a well-written (and a must-read) article in May 2016, entitled, “Ethical and regulatory aspects of genome editing.” The article includes: 

“The application of gene editing for therapeutic modification of primary human cells is still in its infancy. Consequently, development of ethical and regulatory frameworks that ensure their safe and effective use is an increasingly important consideration…There is a higher ethical concern for the direct, intentional alteration of the germline to eliminate pathogenic mutations that may modify the entire human gene pool.” [paraphrased]

Labeling this as “preventative medicine” – changing human genes to spare us from disease – is unethical. As science pushes this technology to the forefront, we may be opening Pandora’s box. If gene editing becomes the new normal, would those who oppose it be the new anti-vaxxers — shunned from society for not opting for the designer children that society and medical consensus insist are best?  Too many questions remain unanswered, and it appears many are being deliberately ignored.

Who gets the authority to decide how many off-target errors CRISPR-Cas9 are too many? Will politicians and pharmaceutical shareholders have a stake in that decision? Editas Medicine and Intellia Therapeutics — two well-known gene-editing companies — are reportedly not concerned with findings that CRISPR can increase cancer risks. 

Cancer is expected to claim 606,880 American lives this year. Is the use of gene editing to cancer while possibly causing it with the collateral damage? It has been claimed that the “few” who are injured by vaccines are acceptable collateral damage for the Greater Good of the vaccination program. Will the same be said if CRISPR-Cas9 technology becomes widely used in human science

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Dani Lasher is a writer, motherhood coach, and health advocate living just outside of Washington, DC. While passionate about informed consent and women’s birthing choices, she’s also slightly obsessed with city living and cooking. You can catch up with Dani at her site, BumpMama



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