Gene editing could usher in a golden era of health free of cancer and all inherited disease, according to a British expert.
Dr Edze Westra, a scientist at the University of Exeter, said the ability to cut and paste DNA into cells would become “super important” in the next two decades.
He predicts that the so-called CRISPR technique will remove cancer, failing vision and the diseases of old age or bad genes from future generations.
“There is always a risk with this kind of technology and fears about designer babies and we have started having discussions about that so we can understand the consequences and long-term risks,” Dr Westra said, according to the Press Association.
“I think in the coming decades gene editing will become super important, and I think we will see it being used to cure all inherited diseases, to cure cancers, to restore sight to people by transplanting genes,” Dr Westra added. “I think it will definitely have massive importance.”
The bioscientist’s prediction comes after two pillars of the US scientific community published a report on Tuesday advocating germline editing.
The practice involves scientists editing the genes of eggs, sperm and embryos to alter inherited DNA, preventing disease arising not just in the patient, but all their offspring too.
Some critics fear such a move could be the start of a slippery slope leading to the creation of “designer babies”, with parents selecting traits.
But the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine said that with the right safeguards, the process deserved serious consideration.
First demonstrated in 2012, CRISPR uses a defence system used by bacteria as self-protection against viruses.
An enzyme cuts through the DNA, while the DNA’s repair machinery is used to insert the “pasted” genetic material.
Speaking at American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Boston, Dr Westra commented: “Gene editing... is causing a true revolution in science and medicine, because it allows for very precise DNA surgery.
“A mutation in a gene that causes disease can now be repaired using CRISPR.”