Sunday, September 24

These geneticists want to rid our children of cancer, diabetes or heart problems. The problem: it may be too soon

The dream of being able to rid our children of diseases such as cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular problems is closer than ever. Genetics is opening doors that until a few years ago we did not think it possible to open and the best example is a recently published method to select the embryo with fewer genetic risks and implant it through a traditional fertilization process in vitro. It sounds great, fantastic, almost futuristic: the problem is that there is too much doubt on the table and many experts believe that we are writing checks that our technology cannot yet pay.

What have been done? The journal ‘Nature Medicine’ has just published a genomic analysis methodology that would make it possible to predict the “genetic risk” of developing 12 relatively common diseases (such as cancer, diabetes or certain cardiovascular diseases). To do this, researchers at MyOme Inc, a company dedicated to performing whole genome analysis, sequenced the genetic material of ten couples and 110 fertilized embryos.

And what have they discovered? From there, they generated an algorithm to “predict” future genetic-based diseases and validated it in 10 children who had already been born. According to the figures of the researchers themselves, the precision in the identification of the final genotype exceeds 99% for embryos of five days. “Genetic screening” in fertilization in vitro It has been on the table for years, the problem with this is that it enters a rather swampy terrain.

Many doubts among experts Because, as the same magazine is in charge of emphasizing with two articles that comment on the discovery, the truth is that there are still many doubts about the relationship that exists between having a certain genetic variation and the vast majority of diseases. Ultimately, with our current level of evidence, it is about making decisions with a profound impact on people’s lives using techniques that are “highly experimental” and still do not provide sufficient certainty.

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In addition, the experts summoned by ‘Nature Medicine’ point out that we find ourselves in a situation that can “downplay the environmental and social determinants of common diseases” and, if this is not taken into account, it can cause many people to end up being exposed to more risks than necessary due to a poor understanding of what is behind these diseases.

To what extent can we genetically design a person?

Are we trying to go too fast?. Until now, “preimplantation genetic tests” were reserved for a very small and specific set of diseases: diseases that are not only very dangerous, but diseases that, as far as we know, are directly connected to the genetic basis. It is not about “reducing risk”, it is about eliminating it (when possible). If methodologies such as those proposed in the article reach the mainstream of fertilization in vitrothe situation is complicated.

Not because it is not something that we are going to see yes or yes in the future (in fact, there are already thinkers who warn that we are not so far from a world in which natural pregnancy is rejected as dangerous); but because it may be early to start making decisions based on our knowledge of the genome. We have experience of what it is to do things too quickly and history tells us that haste is not a good adviser.

Image | omar lopez

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