Gene therapy holds a lot of promise in the field of medicine. People every day are born with birth defects that affect their genetic makeup. This may create diseases that affect their quality of life, including shortening their expected life span. The pros and cons of gene therapy show that some of these issues could be treated or potentially cured in time, but the cost of doing so is often beyond what the average household can afford. Here are some additional key points to consider when looking at gene therapies as a viable medical treatment.
The Pros of Gene Therapy
1. It can prolong life.
Although gene therapy doesn’t necessarily fix the issues that are present at a person’s birth, it can treat those issues rather successfully. This allows an individual to live a rather normal life despite having a genetic condition that could make life difficult.
2. The scale of reach for gene therapy is quite large.
Antibiotics do not treat viral infections. Chemotherapy isn’t something that is used to treat an outbreak of influenza. Many medical applications are only good for a limited treatment protocol, but not gene therapy. From Alzheimer’s disease to Cystic Fibrosis, people young and old with any number of disorders could benefit from successful gene therapy research and treatment.
3. It could be tailored to replicate any protein.
What makes gene therapy such an exciting field of research is that it makes the production of protein that is dysfunctional become functional once again. Once the actual process of this is successfully developed, there is the potential that it could be replicated to any protein abnormality that may develop.
4. Gene therapy doesn’t have to just apply to humans.
Gene therapies can also apply to animals, which could then help to stabilize the food chain and save producers money as therapies become less expensive. It could apply to plants as well, eliminating diseases that can devastate entire crops some seasons.
5. It could be used to enhance a person’s overall health.
When certain genes are enhanced, the benefits they provide for overall health could enhance human life spans. Imagine being able to treat a future risk of cardiovascular disease not through the use of statins, but through gene therapies that “boost” a person’s own biology. Increased muscle mass, better blood flow, and other benefits could change how we see ourselves in the future.
The Cons of Gene Therapy
1. It isn’t a permanent solution – at the moment.
The ultimate goal of gene therapy is to create a treatment protocol that would allow someone to eventually be cured of their genetic abnormalities. Right now we’re only able to take care of the symptoms of some diseases through gene therapy care. Eventually we’ll need to deal with the root problem for this to be an effective medical treatment.
2. The process of gene therapy may have unintended side effects.
Because we’re working with the building blocks that make people actually be “people,” we really have no idea what current or future side effects may be when gene therapies are used. It could create mutations in future generations, create new diseases, or reduce instead of enhance a person’s quality of life.
3. Gene therapy could create a new socioeconomic class divide.
In the US especially, medical care is often based on a person’s ability to afford that care. Gene therapy is an expensive process, so it may not be readily available to all those who could benefit from it. Eventually, if left uncontrolled, the rich would get richer and the poor would just die.
4. Biology is very adaptable.
The discovery of antibiotics changed how medical care is administered. It also changed how bacteria behaves and has created resistant strains that are difficult to treat. This may also apply to gene therapy. Eventually human biology may adapt to these changes and be less responsive, creating more damage to the gene pool over the course of several generations.
5. Most observed benefits so far have been rather limited.
Although some benefits have been seen with current gene therapy techniques, they are often small benefits that are short-term in nature. Considering one treatment can cost upwards of $1 million, that a high price to pay for a small gain at best.
The pros and cons of gene therapy show that there is a lot of potential on the horizon for many who may be suffering from genetic disorders right now. With ongoing research, medical breakthroughs could be right around the corner and the hope that provides can be powerful medicine as well.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.