Using genetic engineering for personal enhancement is a controversial topic — not to mention, presently, a practical impossibility. But when a group of health care experts gathered on Tuesday to hear from one of the inventors of CRISPR, they cut straight to the quick: Would he use it on himself?
The question — posed during a discussion between MIT and Broad Institute researcher Feng Zhang and STAT’s Sharon Begley at the AtlanticLive PULSE health care conference — elicited laughter from the scientist.
“If there’s something that improves my eyesight,” Zhang replied to questioner Rodrigo Martinez, head of marketing and design at Veritas, a genetics company founded by George Church. “I wear spectacles now. I wouldn’t mind having some therapy that would allow me to see better, certainly. As long as it’s safe and can be done in a sensible, proper, ethical way.”
It was an on-point question — if more personal than most — for a session titled “Editing out disease.” Zhang also gave the audience of a few hundred a primer on how CRISPR works and how it can be used for scientific research and discovery, and treatment of genetic diseases.
Editing out disease is also something Zhang is very interested in in a business sense. He is a co-founder of Editas Medicine, a biotech developing CRISPR-based therapies including treatments for eye diseases, cystic fibrosis, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Zhang recently announced the formation of a second company, Arbor Biotechnologies, but little is known about its therapeutic focus and he declined to share details at the event.