|Photo by Jorge Lucero on Flickr|
We’ve all heard this before – you can’t change the genes you were born with…or can you? Impossible as it may sound many researchers have been trying to do just that. The field is called gene therapy and it involves “correcting” your existing genes to prevent or treat illness. Think of it as cutting-and-pasting new instructions into your body’s existing user manual.
So, how do researchers go about altering what your parents gave you? They first have to determine which gene(s) need to be changed. One ambitious attempt currently involves lessening the effects of infections such as HIV. In this case, the virus enters some of your healthy blood cells through specific receptors. These receptors are essentially designated guest entrances, just for the HIV virus. The obvious solution? Get rid of these entryways so the virus can’t get into your healthy cells.
Again, the key is to remove the cell’s instructions on how to make these entryways. In clinical trials, scientists are using DNA-cutting scissors, to delete these instructions. No more instructions, no more entryway for HIV viruses. If the virus can’t get in, your cells can’t get sick. Once perfected, this technique could be used not only to prevent illness, but help sick people recover.