Somatic Vs Germline Gene Therapy
Germline gene therapy, also known as germline genome editing, involves altering genes within cells’ germ or gamete cells–sperm and eggs–with the goal of passing these changes on to future generations through either the egg or sperm. Conversely, somatic gene therapy involves inserting therapeutic DNA into body tissues that do not normally produce sperm or eggs such as bone marrow or muscle cells.
The debate surrounding germline genome editing (HGE) has pitted eugenicists against liberals who argue it should only be used for the prevention of serious diseases. While the debate is complex, many scientists see HGE as an essential technology that can significantly improve human health and wellbeing.
Somatic gene therapy became widely utilized in the 1970s for treating genetic diseases and disorders. By inserting therapeutic genes into cells that are not reproductive, such as bone marrow or blood stem cells, researchers were able to treat these conditions without affecting germ cells responsible for producing eggs or sperm.
Somatic genome editing offers the advantage of being able to introduce genes at any point during development, unlike germ line human genome editing which requires embryonic stem cells be modified first and then injected into the uterus for development. Furthermore, somatic gene therapies may be more easily repeated if they prove unsuccessful than germ line interventions.
Additionally, there is a distinct risk difference between germ line and somatic gene therapies that must be assessed to decide if germ line gene therapy can be conducted safely and responsibly.
One major concern raised against germline gene therapy is the potential risk to children’s reproductive organs. This concern arises because gene therapy vectors, which deliver DNA to cells, can travel through the body and lodge themselves in gonadal tissues such as the gonads.
There is an increased risk of developing germline disease or condition when vectors are introduced too late in development. Furthermore, some people worry that genetic modifications from parents or grandparents could be passed on to children through DNA inheritance.
If the somatic/germline barrier hasn’t been broken yet, here are a few key reasons why:
Somatic gene therapy is an effective treatment for certain genetic diseases or disorders, but it comes with its own ethical concerns that must be considered. For instance, a woman’s desire to have a child with the disorder must be taken into consideration and she must be informed about both the advantages and potential risks associated with having this intervention.
Somatic gene therapy is therefore a highly ethical option, but should not be the only choice available. Germline gene editing also has the potential to improve human health and wellbeing; however, there are numerous ethical concerns which need to be addressed.