Down Syndrome and Biotech

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Fifth in a series - D is for Down Syndrome

A state law was overturned in April this year that Vice President Mike Pence had signed when he was Indiana Governor. The law, in part, prohibited abortions based solely on race, sex, or diagnosis or potential diagnosis of a disability such as Down syndrome.

The law had been immediately challenged by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and never took effect, but was defended by the State of Indiana throughout the legal process. After a permanent injunction was issued in September of 2016, Indiana’s Attorney General appealed, stating:

“By declaring unconstitutional a state law that would bar abortions based solely on race, sex or disability such as Down syndrome, a federal judge has cleared the path for genetic discrimination that once seemed like science fiction… This state has a compelling interest in protecting the dignity of the unborn and in ensuring they are not selected for termination simply because they lack preferred physical characteristics.” (ref)

To us Christians his words make perfect sense. They ought to ring true with anyone who remembers what happened in Nazi Germany. Yet many states are in the throes of such legal controversies. Moreover, physicians may be sued if patients decide they were not adequately warned of a Down syndrome child.

An article in the National Right to Life e-news reports,

Among disabilities, a Down syndrome diagnosis has become one of the most renowned reasons women abort. Studies show that up to 90 percent of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. Horrifically, that number has approached 100 percent in European countries like Iceland.

Because of biotech, prenatal testing can reveal whether a pre-born baby has Down syndrome, and then the parents have an option. A ministry, Be Not Afraid, supports parents when a pregnancy is complicated by a prenatal diagnosis. In the Bible, we read that women are not to be frightened by any fear, as true daughters of Sarah. (1 Pet 3:6)

On the positive side, Biotech is on the move to discover a cure for Down syndrome. From each parent we receive 23 chromosomes, but the person with DS has an extra copy of chromosome 21, and this causes the syndrome. This article describes a research project that silenced the extra chromosome, raising hope for a cell therapy for the syndrome.

Discoveries are emerging that help scientists understand how the trisomy (3 chromosomes) affects the overall cell makeup, and can lead to new studies, little by little isolating how to cure the condition:

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the research shows that trisomy 21, far from only affecting the proteins encoded by the chromosome 21 genes, also impacts on the proteins encoded by the genes located on the other chromosomes. In fact, the cells are overwhelmed by the protein surplus generated by the triplicated genes, and cannot regulate the amount of proteins. These results provide new insight into Down's syndrome and its symptoms based on the study of proteins, revealing the different outcomes of an excess of chromosome 21 on cell behaviour. (ref)

An article that suggests a means of possible treatment in utero is here. A therapy to cure chromosome abnormalities is reported here.

A report on this website describes research to remove the extra copy of chromosome 21 in cell cultures gotten from a DS person, to create cell therapies to help DS people fight the illnesses that are brought on by the syndrome. There are many biotech studies taking place to help improve the health of people with DS.

Let’s stay tuned and pray for good biotech news about Down syndrome.

GMO for humans

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Fourth in a series - C is for CRISPR-Cas9

Perhaps you have seen or remember from the childhood the movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959, 2008). Explorers venture into a cavern and descend to discover places of strange beauty and creatures. Likewise, through instruments of nanotechnology scientists voyage into worlds of fantastic landscapes that are our under-being: DNA, cells, molecules, bacteria, more. Thus they can see the patterns that program human growth, development, functioning and reproduction.

The CRISPR— Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats— of DNA, represent sections of instructions that can be edited. CRISPR-Cas9 is the name for a relatively new biotechnology that can precisely edit DNA. It shows promise for healing diseases, but also for altering human genetic makeup so that “designer” babies could be engineered, among other eugenics goals.

Christians need to understand such biotechnologies that are unfolding at warp speed. Here are some resources that can help.

The below 30-min video is a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk by Dr. Paul Knoepfler who explains how CRISPR could disrupt society. He believes there should be a moratorium on the new technology. He reports that human genetic modification has officially begun in the United Kingdom and that scientists the world over are excited about CRISPR.

This 16-minute video has been viewed nearly nine million times, which tells us it is worth seeing. It describes a brief history of genetic engineering and what can occur in the near and less near future.

This video is a little over four minutes and focuses on CRISPR-Cas9.

This article describes the effort to discourage germline genome modification through CRISPR-Cas9, which is performed on embryos. Such editing of genes would permanently alter the human genome.

The scientists credited with discovering CRISPR-Cas9 are shown here, with one explaining the biotechnology.

This movie trailer says these things are happening!

This article explains how human embryos have already been GMed. A CRISPR timeline describes its advance since 1987. A lead scientist advises that humans not be subject to CRISPR-Cas9.

Christians might wonder: When a human being is genetically altered, how would that affect the soul? Will the message of salvation make sense to a human who has been made king-like, even king-sized, by CRISPR-Cas9?

Discarding embryos in the process of inventing a designer baby may seem unimportant to an evolutionist who believes that God himself discarded multitudes of creatures before finally coming up with a human. But for the Bible-believing Christian, an embryo is a human being deserving of respect, for life begins at conception. We are opposed to experimentation that destroys embryos. The fact that life begins at conception is the scientific view which is still in the textbooks, however today it is challenged in courts and academia regularly.

Man was made in God’s image for relationship and enjoyment. Will God enjoy relating to humans made in the image of the world’s value system when he has said, “Love not the world”? (1 John 2:15) And what about introducing genetic material from one organism into another for experimentation? Should man intermix the kinds created by God? Again, for most scientists, blending the kinds is permissible since that is the history of man’s evolution. The stage has been set for the assault on God’s wondrous creation.

Angel fish
Public Domain, Link

...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1

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A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on Amazon.com. It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. It is also available here in PDF format. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

Did you know that dead organ donors are often anesthetized before their organs are removed? Do you know the current definition of death? The conscience cannot function without facts.

As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

How should a Christian think about euthanasia by starvation when doctors and the state attorney general all agree it is time to withhold feeding from a brain injured patient? Some things are family matters, but someday it may be our family.

Here is a small book to help you think about whether you want to sign your driver's license, donate a kidney, cremate your loved one, and many other practical questions that may arise in the course of your healthcare decisions or watch over others.

It offers a special focus on the doctrine of the Resurrection that is related to such decisions. Sunday School classes and Bible Study groups could use this book to facilitate discussion about the issues covered.