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Ageing is the natural process of the gradual deterioration of physical and mental attributions of the body as it ages. This biological process affects the organs, tissues, and the general function of the bodily systems. Bones thin, hormones change, immunity weakens and the overall function of organs begin to deteriorate. All of these bodily changes are mostly due to one thing- cells. Cells are the basic building blocks of the tissues that make up organs and as the body ages, they become larger and are less able to divide and multiply. This increase in size causes a fatty substance to develop inside the cells which leads cells to lose their ability to function or begin to function abnormally, thus causing the tissues that make up organs to also begin to function abnormally. These changes to the cells and the organ tissue are all part of the ageing process and affect daily life activities often taken for granted in the youthful years (e.g. sickness becomes more frequent and simple tasks become more demanding on the body). For centuries humans having been attempting to find a way to combat the ageing process and all that comes with it, and now scientists believe that immortality is attainable in the very near future with a process called gene therapy. BioViva (date), an American Biotech company, are currently formulating a “cure” to ageing using gene therapy. Gene therapy potentially offers the ability to treat a variety of diseases caused by ageing by replacing missing or defective genes, delivering genes that add needed proteins to the body, delivering genes that enhance the body to resist disease and introducing genes which stimulate cell growth and heal damaged tissue. Although the idea of disease free immortality seems just around the corner, the concept of gene therapy is still relatively new and poses many ethical and moral dilemmas that definitely will do more harm to the human race then benefit it.
Within cells lie thousands and thousands of genes, each with specific information on the production of proteins and enzymes that make muscle, bone and blood which in turn make most bodily functions such as digestion, energy production and growth work. If a gene becomes defective it can disrupt how proteins are made, thus contributing to health problems or diseases. As cells age they become increasingly poor at combatting disease and repairing damage. Gene therapies that are currently being developed to reverse the ageing process target cellular ageing and encourage tissue regeneration. Gene therapy can be used to modify cells inside and outside of the body depending on the problems present. Faulty or defective genes can be replaced with new genes, new genes can be added to the body to help fight diseases or genes that are causing problems can be turned off. Viruses that have been modified to remove the ability to cause an infectious disease can be used as carriers or vectors to transfer genetic material as they have a natural ability to deliver genes straight into cells (Reference). Internal gene therapy requires the vector carrying the gene to be inserted straight into the part of the body with the defective cells. External gene therapy requires tissue to be taken and specific types of cells to be separated in a lab with the vector containing the desired gene to then be introduced into these separated cells (Reference). Although a relatively new concept, these two forms of gene therapy have already been tested with successful results. A study on mice revealed significant rejuvenating effects after the mice received a six-week trial of induced pluripotent stem cell therapy(Reference). Induced Pluripotent stem cells can multiply and transform into any cell in the body and after the mice received it, they looked younger, had straighter spines and better cardiovascular health. In 2015, American Biotech company, BioViva took gene therapy a step further and tested two forms of gene therapy on the first human being, BioViva CEO Elisabeth Parrish. Parrish received two forms of gene therapy: one to protect against loss of muscle mass with age and another to stop stem cell depletion responsible for age related diseases. Six months after administration, data showed that Parrish’s telomeres (a short segment of DNA that caps chromosomes and serves as a buffer to protect chromosomes from damage but shortens each time a cell divides) had lengthened from 6.71kb to 7.33kb, meaning that her white blood cells had become 20 years younger in that time after the receival of telomerase gene therapy.
Despite positive feedback from experimental gene therapy trials, the use of gene therapy to reverse the ageing process still poses many ethical and moral questions. Will gene therapy be purely exclusive to those who can afford it? Could the use of gene therapy make a society less excepting of those who are different? Will there be a line drawn at using gene therapy only for medical purposes or will it be used for human enhancement modifications as well? While BioViva believes that ageing is a disease that can be cured, some still have their concerns regarding the use of gene therapy to reverse ageing, wondering if life would be as serious or meaningful without mortality’s limit. The likelihood of everyone having a chance at immortality is extremely low, especially in poor countries where wealthy autocrats can afford gene therapy but not poor commoners (Reference). As people continue to age but continue to extend their lives, what would happen to their identities? Contact with family would cease, memories lost and the overall value and enjoyment of life would be lost.
As well as posing moral and ethical dilemmas, gene therapy also poses the threat of overpopulation. With an overpopulated world would come the struggle of employment: “let’s say most people would be able to extend their lives. If they continued to have children, then the world would be even more overpopulated than today. And the prospects for younger people won’t be bright if older people, with their wealth of experience, continue to fill available jobs and retain their hold on power.” (Prof Janna Thompson, Professor of Philosophy, 2015). A form of “generational cleansing” may be needed if people were to extend lifespans, meaning authorities would decide a reasonable length for a generation to live and then “cull” them once they had their time.
Overall the use of gene therapy to reverse ageing is scientifically possible and even scientifically proven but morally and ethically incorrect as it poses too many threats to the harmony and safety that current society provides. It poses the threat of overpopulation, the loss of who we are as a human, bias and the seriousness and meaningfulness that life’s mortality gives. “My conclusion would be, if you want to live longer you’re much better off smoking less and exercising more than you are trying to lengthen your telomeres,” (Elisabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva and first human to have experimental gene therapy to reverse ageing tested on, 2016).

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