by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla
It was near the end of the class period, and I was trying to explain the difference between regulating gene expression–how genes get turned on and off– and replacing genes. “It is possible to modify gene regulation biochemically, using a drug to influence gene expression. Some chemotherapy drugs work this way. However, if the gene itself is defective, the most efficient way of fixing it would be to insert a functional copy of the gene into the genome, using some type of vector to get the DNA into the nucleus. Clinical trials are underway…”
Hands go up. A few of the expected questions are asked. How do viral vectors work? What are the risks of such vectors? And then a question I hadn’t expected:
“If you fix a broken gene, isn’t that playing God?”
It was a good question. But answering it would’ve deprived my student of an opportunity to think. Instead, I asked him, “What if someone was born without a limb? Would it be ‘playing God’ if we made that person a prosthesis?”
“No,” answered the student.
“What if it were a biochemical defect? We had a drug that could help return the patient to to normal function, and we gave that to him. Would that be playing God?”
“No, I’d be fine with that,” he said.
“What if you had the ability to simply replace a defective gene? It was broken, and you fixed it. You restored function to your patient. Assuming that your patient won’t be harmed by the procedure, would gene therapy be any different than the first two scenarios?”
Another student raised his hand. “When Jesus healed, He restored sight, and made the lame walk.” Certainly, Jesus restored souls. But restoring whole persons was an integral part of His ministry.
Restoration belongs to the Creator. But He has allowed us to steward this gift. Does it matter whether the tools we use are anatomical, biochemical, or genetic?
If Jesus were walking around today, and healed a cancer patient, wouldn’t you expect the mutations in their cancer cells to be gone?
Perhaps medicine will soon be able to do the same thing. You can read more about gene therapy clinical trials here.