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What Are the Risks of Gene Editing?

By Keith Speights - Apr 2, 2021 at 7:03AM

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The CEO of a leading genomics company gives his opinion.

Gene editing technology holds the potential to transform how many diseases are treated. It could even offer the promise of curing some genetic diseases. However, as is the case with many types of technology, there are also some significant risks. In this video recorded on March 11, 2021, Motley Fool CEO and co-founder Tom Gardner talks with 10x Genomics (TXG -0.80%) CEO and co-founder Serge Saxonov about his views on the potential risks associated with gene editing.

Tom Gardner: How do you think about the potential risks of these technologies? What changes could emerge that we look at as a damaging innovation? We think of innovation. We have so many positive associations with innovation. But if we thought of processed food, was that a good innovation? What are the risks with CRISPR, of gene editing, of getting into these ingredients of life and being able to alter them?

Serge Saxonov: Yeah, well, I do tend to think -- just full disclosure -- I tend to think about the positive impact of the things. I think the world generally tends to underestimate how much value we can create relative to the status quo. That comes to my mind.

But to your question, yeah. There's definitely things that we should be watching. Again, we're in a pandemic right now. You can imagine artificial examples of that. In the future, people develop viruses and biological agents that in principle can be pretty scary.

I think a lot of the answer is actually getting developing technology that can anticipate that and counteract that in a sense. But yeah, definitely there's risks associated with that.

Gene editing. At this stage, we're still reasonably far from it becoming — it's not an immediate concern right now because the technology is not far enough certainly to insert it to humans. I think the initial applications are going to be certainly unambiguously benign, like fixing inherited diseases and just thinking of these really horrible afflictions that people can be born with.

As you start thinking about, you get designer babies, that gets into a little bit, yeah, those are social questions. We definitely need to think about them on the policy level where any given individual's decision might not be in the best interest of society.

I tend to think that we should generally err on the side of letting individuals have their choice, but definitely something that we have to be very thoughtful about and careful thinking through. I think those are the main worries that I have.

I think it's much more symmetric like figuring out cures for these diseases, especially as you think, most certainly in the developed world. But like we're talking about cancer and neurodegeneration and some other things. Also, in the developing world, there is a huge potential to just lift so many people out of misery. I'd like for the focus to be there.

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