Debate emerges over using CRISPR gene editing to prevent opioid overdoses

michigan med l opioid use oph c qalcdwwma mh k a f q a k ni tm
Credit: Michigan Health

According to the CDC, about 47,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose in 2018, a number that remained steady from the previous year. This is despite more than $9 billion in federal grants to states, largely for “medication-assisted treatment”, over the last three years.

Craig Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University, outlined a proposal to prevent opioid overdose deaths by “turning off” a specific receptor for opioids in the brain.

Stevens advocates for the genetic alteration of people struggling with opioid addiction by injecting CRISPR molecules into the brain via “a new neurosurgical microinjection technique.” The injected CRISPR molecules would render the mu opioid receptor nonfunctional in specific neurons. In this way, death by overdose — which is caused by slowed or impaired breathing — could be prevented. Opioid addiction, however, would persist.

Related article:  While you sleep, your brain decides which memories to keep, and which ones go to 'the garbage bin'

Any treatment that claims it can save nearly 50,000 lives a year is worthy of our attention. But I take issue with this proposal because it reinforces America’s long history of treating national medical crises — AIDS, SARS-CoV-2, mental health — reactively, rather than proactively, and on an individual, rather than societal, level. This approach has failed every time. The opioid epidemic is no different.

Follow the latest news and policy debates on agricultural biotech and biomedicine? Subscribe to our newsletter.

Stevens is advocating for a research direction, not an urgent clinical intervention. Still, the cause of the opioid epidemic is not genetics: it is societal and healthcare shortcomings. Those are things CRISPR cannot fix.

Read the original post

Outbreak
Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped
Infographic: The evolutionary history of the COVID-19 coronavirus

Infographic: The evolutionary history of the COVID-19 coronavirus

Reuters analysed over 185,000 genome samples from the Global Initiative on Sharing All influenza Data (GISAID), the largest database of ...
favicon

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend