Recent work on gene editing has raised hopes that it soon could be used to tweak disease-causing genes, but Craig Venter, CEO of the J. Craig Venter Institute and a number of companies, writes at the Washington Post that more research is needed before that can be a reality.
"Here, some humility must temper hope. What we know is surely considerable, but it is dwarfed by what we still have to learn," Venter writes.
Despite researchers like himself having sequenced the human genome, created synthetic chromosomes, and developing synthetic cells, he says it's still early days for being able to interpret what variations in gene sequences mean. Additionally, he says that gene therapy has mostly been unable thus far fix mutations in all the cells of the body, though he notes that ex vivo editing has shown more success.
Further, eliminating disease from the population would mean editing the human germline, a step that carries the risk of unintended consequences from less-than-precise editing tools, Venter says, adding that direct human experimentation has been banned.
"The prospects of eliminating disease and improving longevity are within our grasp," he adds. "The way to reach that aspiration is to continue enhancing our knowledge of the genome itself so that genome editing can become a legitimate part of the future of medicine."