Germ-Line Therapy

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The genetic manipulation of the human body brings about a heated debate from many parties. What needs to be considered from these discussions is the protection of our generations and the future implications of germ line therapy on the environment and humans. These are just a few of the issues that need to be taken into consideration when conducting genetic research to better treat and cure disease. It is relevant to note that germ line therapy is still experimental and possible procedures are based on current scientific research in the development of these procedures. Therefore, it is important to weigh the costs and benefits in order to effectively protect humans not only against disease, but also ourselves.

Germ line therapy is essentially alterations made to the germ cells. Any manipulation to the the eggs, sperm and early embryos would be transferred to future generations. Any corrections made at this stage would not need to be made again in that person’s descendants. This type of treatment would be primarily used as a means to alleviating or curing a disease. Completely eradicating hereditary diseases, allowing families to prevent the inheritance of lethal genes in their future children.

This therapy is currently (early 2005) banned in the UK. It is not possible to predict where in the genome a newly inserted gene might end up, and this poses unknown risks of causing new mutations, or otherwise disrupting normal gene functioning. Even if these hazards could be removed, there are new ethical problems that could appear with serious development of germ line therapy. These include how to decide which genetic alterations to permit. Some would clearly be aimed at correcting harmful mutations, but others might be considered enhancements, rather than treatments. Sometimes, it may be hard to tell the difference.

Though we do not currently have the technology, with progress in gene targeting it may eventually be possible simply to replace an existing gene...
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