Since before the time of Watson and Crick, humanity has dreamed of a day when the phrase “incurable” no longer applies to disease. Nearly twenty years ago, after the successful mapping of the human genome, it felt like we had taken a giant leap toward making that dream a reality. Now, thanks to the bright minds at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it appears we have taken yet another leap towards that dream. Check out the 60-Minutes segment in the video above.
Using a process known as gene therapy, NIH researchers have seemingly found a way to cure sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is a condition in which a person cannot produce sufficient healthy red blood cells to carry the oxygen throughout the body. Typically, red blood cells are round and pliable, effortlessly navigating through the body’s blood vessels. With sickle cell anemia, the red blood cells become inflexible, sticky, and are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. The cells’ abnormalities result in them getting stuck within smaller blood vessels, which consequently slows or blocks blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body. Individuals with sickle cell anemia, often experience extreme episodes of pain because of these blockages.
The gene therapy solution devised by the NIH corrects the segments of DNA that cause sickle cell anemia. The updated DNA is then placed into a silent form of HIV and coupled with stem cells taken from the bone marrow of a patient. From there, the newly modified HIV leaves copies of the edited DNA within genes that become reintroduced into the patient’s body.
The results of this research have been nothing short of amazing. After only a few months, patients have seen a complete turnaround in not only the state of their blood cells – seeing the virtual disappearance of all sickle-shaped cells, but also in how their bodies feel, providing the ability to engage in activities the rest of us may take for granted – activities like running or martial arts. However, Dr. Francis Collins of the NIH expresses some cautious optimism around the results:
“Make no mistake, we’re talking about very innovative research where the certainty about all the outcomes is not entirely there. We can look back at the history of gene therapy and see there have been some tragedies… But from every angle I know how to size this up, this looks like a cure.”
So where do we go from here? Well, Dr. Collins mentions the almost 7,000 known genetic diseases for which there is potential to implement a similar solution by correcting the mutated segment of DNA associated with these illnesses. Barring any future complications, this could be among the broadest scientific developments of the 21st century – fingers crossed.
The Privy Health Insight genetic test analyzes your DNA for mutations associated with several 7,000 known genetic diseases mentioned by Dr. Collins. While the NIH’s form of gene therapy is still in the research phase, discovering what genetic mutations are present in your DNA can help you, and your physicians create a preventative health plan which can help in early detection of cancer and other diseases, resulting in a high likelihood of survival.
To learn more about testing and how it can empower your health, visit: https://privy.health/insight.