Several news organizations engaged in a media swoon last week over the CRISPR genetic editing technology, calling it "jaw-dropping" and a game-changing therapeutic approach in the fight against genetic diseases and other disorders, with the UK's Independent and the Las Vegas Guardian Express leading the way.
"[CRISPR] is absolutely huge," Craig Mello says to the Las Vegas Guardian Express.
"I'm jumping out of my skin with excitement," Harvard Medical School's George Church adds. "The efficiency and ease of use is completely unprecedented."
The Guardian Express notes that trials are expected to begin to test the CRISPR therapy on Huntington's disease.
All of this may be true about this genetic editing method, but it is not as if human disease is about to be eradicated.
The UK's BioNews, run by the Progress Educational Trust charity, and New Zealand's Science Media Centre, run by the Royal Society of New Zealand, both take a step back by rounding up some more measured or cautious observations on the potential and the realities of the CRISPR technology.
University of Oxford Professor Dagan Wells stresses to BioNews that "the therapeutic potential of this sort of genetic microsurgery is yet to be proven" and that much work will need to be done to ensure its safety before it can be used in the clinic.
Meanwhile, Medical Research Council Professor Robin Lovell Badge says that while the CRISPR method has generated enthusiasm in the basic science community for better understanding gene function, "the hype needs to be tempered with a little caution."
He notes that though genetic changes using CRISPR technique appear to be better than other techniques, it is not perfect and it could accidentally introduce problems that are worse than the ones it was meant to correct.
There also is the problem of "off-target hits," Badge says, which pops up when genetic editing alters sites somewhere else in the genome.
"We can deal with this in mice or fish by breeding the animals and segregating away the mutations at these other sites, but not with patients, and these off-target mutations could be bad," he adds to the Science Media Centre
There also are the usual load of ethical issues that arise from genetic manipulation technologies, Badge says, and in particular the question of whether this method may be used to improve people at the germline level, such as making people resistant to HIV, and not just correct genetic flaws.
Aside from the caution, Badge says CRISPR and other genetic editing methods "deserve proper consideration and debate, and not just hype or condemnation, so that the wonderful opportunities it presents can be applied sensibly."
“Talking about the future is better than letting it sneak up on us. We need to do more of this or we will be left with very limited vocabulary in the space between positive and negative hype," Church adds to the Science Media Centre.