Cancer Gene Therapy

The replacement of a faulty or absent gene with one that functions is referred to as human gene therapy. This therapy enables the body to produce the correct protein or enzyme which in turn eliminates the causes of the disease. Gene therapy can be either germ- line or somatic cell therapy. The latter corrects a malfunctioning or absent gene through cell treatment whereas the former treats an embryo or gamete used in vitro fertilization.

Most of the earlier attempts to bolster the response of the immune system to cancer have not been successful. However with the gene therapy researchers have hinted at some success. There are a number of advantages to this therapy such as prevention of some of the serious illnesses, treatment of the gravely ill and the fact that the therapy primarily tackles the cause of the disease as opposed to its symptoms. These merits however do not blind us from the numerous shortcomings that are likely to plague the society once the gene therapy is fully adopted.

Arguments against Gene Therapy
Gene therapy is a new treatment and the long term effects on the patients have not been established. This means that a continued surveillance of the patients will be required in order to curb long- term effects. It is important that the future generation be safe otherwise it might lead to further complications. There is still too much uncertainty more so regarding germ-line therapy.  It is true more that one type of cell can be infected by a virus.  In this way both healthy and cancer cells can be infected when genes are carried in the body by viral vectors. In addition the risk of improper insertion of the new gene can cause mutations.

The germ-line gene therapy has a provision to carryout research on embryos. This research is done without the consent of the subjects. Furthermore the research is likely to hinder their offspring. It is therefore unethical for such experimentation to be done on subjects without their consent.

There are also fears that gene therapy will be an opening for researchers to try and alter some human traits that are not necessarily linked to the disease. The likely result is increased discrimination in the society. Also referred to as genetic apartheid, the trend will see to a small percentage of privileged few in the society benefiting from synthetic genes. This will further increase inequality in the society.
Again, it is very expensive to carryout a gene therapy. Already the existing therapies are rather farfetched for the common man. This new gene therapy will only be affordable for a few. There will be much pressure for governments and organizations to cater for the cost. In truth there are a number of priorities in society other than investing in the therapy. Similarly, though expensive its applicability is limited. Genetic defects are detected in a small number of live births (2). The meager resources channeled in this project might as well be invested in alternative heath programs.

The rights of subsequent generations will also be violated with the institution of the germ-line therapy. Since the therapy intentionally modifies the genetic make-up of the patients then future generation will inherit distorted genes. This process is irreversible thus a good reason to be skeptical. As pointed early the long term effects are not known yet. It is therefore a violation of their rights.
Furthermore, the medical fraternity will also face too much pressure to see to the use of the germ-line therapy for enhancement. For instance there are individuals who despite not suffering from dwarfism will want to enhance their height. As much as the hormone is important it will not be used for its intended purpose. Initially it was meant to address forms of dwarfism. It is however likely that the therapy might never be used for its intended purpose.

As much as the gene therapy has some merits there is still much research to be done in order to eliminate the risks and alleviate some of the fears. Already there are some cures for cancer. Though they have not recorded 100 per cent success, these cures should be improved on before introducing another therapy. Again, it is not proper for humans to be used as subjects of experimentation without consent. This not only exposes the society to risks but violates the rights of an individual. Further, the new gene therapy is expensive hence prudent for the money to be invested in other viable health programs. Already our contemporary society is faced with great inequalities. Introducing the therapy will mean further polarization and discrimination.

Finally, some of the process is irreversible hence the need for people to be careful before making a forward step.


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