The field of genetic editing, a revolutionary field in medicine, was the main focus of Dr. Tamara Sunbul’s keynote lecture titled “A New Era for Medicine: Digital Diagnosis and Therapies.” Dr. Sunbul, Clinical Informatics Medical Director at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare, highlighted the potential of genotyping and long-term data collection.

The purpose of digital technology, such as genetic editing, is to detect anomalies that may result in variations in medication outcomes. Dr. Sunbul explained that different individuals can react differently to the same medication, emphasizing the need for accurate diagnoses and treatment methods.

One of the most significant advancements in genetic editing is the CRISPR-Cas9 system, also known as “genetic scissors.” This technology precisely cuts DNA sequences at specific locations, allowing for the removal or insertion of gene sequences that modify the DNA base. While CRISPR was initially used in agriculture and bioenergy, Dr. Sunbul shared its potential in digital diagnosis and therapeutics.

In the field of digital diagnosis, new methods like SHERLOCK and DETECTR have emerged. These methods use genetic editing to enable rapid detection of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Additionally, genetic editing is being incorporated into drug discovery processes by companies like Atomwise, Deep Genomics, and Valo.

Furthermore, genetic editing plays a crucial role in advancing cellular and gene therapies for a variety of conditions. This includes blood disorders like thalassemia, sickle cell disease, and hemophilia, as well as conditions like Down syndrome, hereditary blindness, cystic fibrosis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and Huntington’s disease. Through the use of CRISPR, it has become possible to reprogram a patient’s immune system to attack their own cancer, infections (such as HIV, COVID-19, influenza, malaria, Zika, and antibiotic resistance), and chronic diseases like hypercholesterolemia and type 1 diabetes.

Despite these notable advancements, ethical, legal, and scientific considerations remain essential. Dr. Sunbul pointed out that incorrect genetic editing can have harmful consequences, emphasizing the need for caution and precision. Additionally, genetic editing has the potential to impact future generations as irreversible changes can be inherited. Therefore, comprehensive discussions on the ethical implications of genetic editing are necessary to ensure responsible application and safeguard the well-being of individuals and society as a whole.

– Dr. Tamara Sunbul, Clinical Informatics Medical Director at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare