By Scarlett Birge, student news writer, Office of University Communications
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – “Biotechnology can be used to treat human diseases, but it also presents ethical issues when applied to the human genome,” Dr. Ogochukwu Onyiri, assistant professor of biology at the Louisville Education Center, said at Campbellsville University’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Lecture Series recently.
“Biotechnology has helped the world to make significant progress,” she said while explaining that biotechnology is the natural use of biological systems to solve problems or to make products that are useful to humans.
One of the ways the human genome can be modified is through gene therapy. Gene therapy is used to correct genetic disorders or diseases by introducing unmutated genes to stems cells, introducing new genes to fight the disorder/disease, or inactivating mutated genes.
Cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, certain types of cancer, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia A, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can all be targeted with gene therapy.
However, risks are involved with gene therapy because it is unpredictable and not always successful. Some cases of death have been recorded in the usage of gene therapy.
“Gene therapy is not widespread or used routinely in hospitals. It is only experimental and available only through clinical trials of biomedical research,” Onyiri said.
“To what extent should the human genome be improved?” Onyiri asked. Students were asked to provide ethical reasoning to hypothetical situations that Onyiri provided.
Onyiri asked those in attendance to analyze all options and consequences before deciding their course of action. She named the steps to making ethical decisions as identifying the facts, identifying the options and then making an ethical decision to take appropriate action.
Many students in attendance based their conclusions upon ethical theories they have studied in classes at Campbellsville University.
“Should parents be able to design their babies?” Onyiri asked, providing an example of a Chinese doctor in 2018 who used gene therapy to modify twin babies to be resistant to HIV.
This raises additional ethical issues in genetic modification such as using gene therapy in embryos she said.
Improved memory and intelligence, bigger muscles, longer lives, height improvement, and being resistant to certain diseases were all modifications that Onyiri listed that could be concerns when considering genetic modification.
“Using gene therapy for desired traits raises a lot of ethical issues,” she said.
Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 11,600 students offering over 100 programs of study including Ph.D., master, baccalaureate, associate, pre-professional and certification programs. The university has Kentucky based off-campus centers in Louisville, Harrodsburg, Somerset, Hodgenville and Liberty with instructional sites in Elizabethtown, Owensboro and Summersville. Out-of-state centers include two in California at Los Angeles and Lathrop, located in the San Francisco Bay region. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.
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