Changing the DNA You Were Born With

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.

About the author

Melissa Carmen Cheung, PhD

Passionate about sharing science with the public in a fun and accessible way, Melissa is a Medical Communications professional who earned her Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Toronto. Though her research focused on the design of novel cancer therapeutics, Melissa is intrigued by all facets of science. Her goal in life is to captivate people with the same excitement she feels for science.

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