February 2017 | Issue 28
Imagining life with a health blueprint in hand

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By Vanessa Heng, Senior Executive, Research Administration & Support Services

 

We are all what our genes encode us to be. However, thanks to cutting-edge genetic research, we are on the brink of being able to manipulate the outputs of our genes to suit our needs. Once fully realised, I may not only be healthier, but disease-free and possibly even be able to alter my fate - adjusting my lifestyle choices or employing aides such as IVF if my genes predicted that I would have difficulties conceiving.

Similarly, if faced with the knowledge that I’d go on to develop an incurable disease, I would rather know it in the early stages so that necessary decisions like gene alteration could be made. It would be like getting the upper hand by reading the weather forecast for the next day and prepare an umbrella beforehand!

If such an informative “health blueprint” were available, I could lead my life the way I want without the baggage of my genetic background. Being able to influence my genes sounds like good insurance for survival. With this knowledge, early therapeutic intervention would become possible, and hereditary illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases and some cancers could be prevented. If we are willing to compromise by quitting certain unhealthy habits, our lifespan could possibly be prolonged. No sugary food and smoking? Sure. No more alcohol? Probably not. After all, we are the product of our life choices.

However, in our constant pursuit of perfection, I cannot help but wonder if we should rush headlong towards a future where genes could be engineered and manipulated with such precision? Where should the line be drawn? Should I alter some inherited traits to improve my intelligence or enhance my physical characteristics, and code these good genes into an embryo?

For now, I firmly believe that awareness is empowerment. After all, if everyone is perfect, what will happen to the concept of flaws, the very essence that makes us humans, human?