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← The potential of embyronic treatments to fight cancer | Hashem Al-Ghaili | TEDxCluj

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Showing Revision 28 created 11/21/2018 by Peter van de Ven.

  1. Fifty years ago,
  2. humanity began the war against cancer.
  3. When the war against cancer began,
  4. we were relying on chemotherapy
    as the main treatment for cancer.
  5. Now, almost fifty years later,
  6. we are still relying on chemotherapy
    as the main treatment for cancer.
  7. What is going on?
  8. Because we have spent
    billions of dollars on cancer research,
  9. and yet we don't seem to see
    the productive results of this investment.
  10. We are still relying on chemotherapy,
    radiotherapy, and surgery
  11. as the main treatments against cancer
    despite spending billions of dollars
  12. and despite all the many years
    that have passed.
  13. So what is going on with cancer research?
  14. Is it possible that we
    don't want to treat cancer?
  15. That would be absurd.
  16. Is it possible that we are approaching
    cancer research the wrong way?
  17. Luckily, the number
    of cancer survivors is on the rise.
  18. But we still haven't won
    the war against cancer.
  19. Scientists are now working on
    the second generation of cancer treatment.
  20. The ones that are supposed to replace
    chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery.
  21. In fact, two of these treatments
    were approved last year.
  22. One is called immunotherapy,
  23. and the second one is called gene therapy.
  24. Now immunotherapy works like this:
  25. You take immune cells
    from a cancer patient;
  26. these are called T cells.
  27. You send them to a lab
  28. where they are genetically
    engineered to fight cancer.
  29. Then you inject them into the patient.
  30. Three months later,
    and the patient is cancer-free.
  31. As exciting as it sounds,
    many people and many scientists believe
  32. that immunotherapy is the future
    of cancer treatment.
  33. But I don't think so.
  34. There are three problems,
  35. actually four problems
    with this treatment.
  36. The first problem is that so far,
    it only works against one type of cancer
  37. which is called lymphoblastic leukemia.
  38. And we all know that we have too many
    types of cancers to deal with:
  39. breast cancer, brain cancer, skin cancer,
  40. and the list goes on.
  41. The second problem with this treatment
  42. is that it only works on people
    who are younger than 25 years old.
  43. And we all know that cancer
    can strike at any age.
  44. The third problem,
  45. actually with the two treatments
    that were approved last year,
  46. is that they are extremely expensive.
  47. The cost of immunotherapy is $475,000.
  48. And that's not the telephone number
    of your health insurance company.
  49. Actually, that's the cost
    of only treating one patient
  50. against only one type of cancer.
  51. What is it about cancer treatments
    that makes them so expensive?
  52. Why? Why do people
    have to sell an organ to treat another?
  53. It is a devastating future
    that we are heading to
  54. unless we do something.
  55. So what we really need
    is a cancer treatment that is efficient,
  56. that works for the long run,
  57. and that is available when you need it.
  58. Now, the other problem
    with these treatments
  59. is that by the time they are
    cheap enough for you to afford,
  60. they won't be efficient.
  61. It's going to take many years
  62. before somebody from the middle class
    can afford immunotherapy.
  63. And by then, it won't be efficient,
  64. because cancer cells tomorrow
    will not respond
  65. to the same treatment
    they way they do today.
  66. So we need something
    that also works for the long run.
  67. Now, what if I told you
    that instead of wasting $475,000
  68. on treating only one patient
    against only one type of cancer,
  69. we could, at the same cost,
    prevent almost all types of cancer
  70. in 15 individuals.
  71. The human body is equipped
    with a natural defense mechanism
  72. which protects us against cancer.
  73. And it's working in your body right now.
  74. It is called DNA repair mechanism.
  75. When DNA makes copies of itself,
  76. there are chances of errors
    called mutations.
  77. And these mutations can be accelerated
  78. when you expose yourself
    to chemicals, radiation,
  79. when you adopt unhealthy lifestyles,
  80. and sometimes family history
    and genetics also play a role.
  81. But there are proteins that are tasked
  82. with repairing these mutations
    as soon as they happen.
  83. And this is happening
    in your cells right now.
  84. So what if there is a way by which
    we could enhance the cell's ability
  85. to repair DNA at a maximum efficiency.
  86. In fact, we could do that.
  87. We know which proteins are involved
    in the DNA repair mechanism,
  88. and we know how to control them
  89. with the help of a gene editing
    technique called CRISPR,
  90. which you have heard about in the news.
  91. CRISPR is the most precise
    gene editing technique
  92. ever invented in human history.
  93. And it is proving to be very efficient.
  94. So we could use this technique
    to enhance the cell's ability
  95. to repair its DNA
    at all times, at all costs.
  96. But there is one problem.
  97. If we want to protect you
    against all types of cancers,
  98. then we have to make sure
  99. that your entire body
    is genetically engineered,
  100. that every cell is
    programmed to resist cancer.
  101. But we can't do it in adult humans,
  102. because your body
    consists of 37 trillion cells,
  103. and that is impossible to engineer.
  104. In fact, there isn't any technology
    or gene delivery technique
  105. that can deliver genes
    to this massive number of cells.
  106. But what if we could do it
    with human embryos instead?
  107. Why?
  108. Because human embryos
    only have eight cells
  109. in the third day after fertilization.
  110. And we can manage,
  111. in fact, we can engineer
    eight cells in human embryos.
  112. In fact, we are
    already doing it right now.
  113. Take a look at these remarkable results.
  114. Scientists genetically
    engineer human embryos.
  115. They manage to correct a mutation
  116. responsible for a serious
    heart condition in human embryos.
  117. They also manage to treat a condition
    responsible for a blood disorder.
  118. What's more amazing, also,
  119. they manage to introduce
    HIV resistance to human embryos.
  120. So technically speaking,
  121. if these embryos were allowed
    to develop into adult humans,
  122. then the chances of getting
    HIV infection in these humans
  123. are so slim they may never happen.
  124. So if we can do it with these diseases
    by engineering human embryos,
  125. then we can also do it with cancer.
  126. And it is called embryonic cancer therapy,
  127. which I believe could be
    the ultimate cure for cancer.
  128. What's beautiful about
    embryonic cancer therapy
  129. is that we only have to engineer
    eight cells in human embryos.
  130. These embryos will grow to be adult humans
  131. with 37 trillion
    genetically engineered cells.
  132. And we only have to do it once
    with one generation.
  133. Because future generations
    will already, by default,
  134. get this genetic change as we pass it on.
  135. So they will pass it on
    to the next generation.
  136. What's also beautiful about this treatment
    is that it's cost efficient.
  137. We are already doing
    part of the treatment.
  138. You know about in-vitro fertilization:
  139. you take sperms, eggs,
    you fuse them in the lab,
  140. you create embryos,
    and you implant them.
  141. This is a procedure
    for people who can't conceive.
  142. So, it's very much the same procedure,
  143. except that we are adding
    one additional step,
  144. which is genetic engineering.
  145. We are engineering the human embryo
    before implantation.
  146. And the cost is really not so much -
    I mean, in comparison to $475,000.
  147. The cost of in-vitro fertilization
    is not more than $15,000.
  148. In fact, you can get it cheaper
    in some countries.
  149. And the cost of genetically
    engineering human embryos
  150. is also not more than $10,000.
  151. In fact, you can buy
    a CRISPR kit for $1,500,
  152. and you can use it
    to engineer at least 100 embryos.
  153. Think of the possibilities here.
  154. Yes, maybe we have to rely on
    in-vitro fertilization at the beginning,
  155. but eventually, we will find a way
  156. by which we could engineer the embryos
    right on the spot, inside the body.
  157. Now, there are many ways
  158. by which we can enhance
    human embryos to fight cancer.
  159. We can tweak molecular processes.
  160. We have a great deal of knowledge
  161. about the molecules
    that are involved with cancer,
  162. and we could manipulate them
    long before birth.
  163. We could also manipulate human cells.
  164. And instead of immunotherapy after birth,
    we could do it before birth.
  165. What's more fascinating is
  166. we could adopt certain traits
    from other creatures.
  167. Now, you have heard of the tardigrades,
    the toughest animals on earth.
  168. Tardigrades:
  169. they can survive in space radiation,
    in the vacuum of space;
  170. they can survive extreme radiation;
  171. they can turn into glass,
    under dehydrated conditions.
  172. But what's fascinating
    is that they can survive
  173. extreme radiations
    which could cause cancer in humans.
  174. What scientists did is
    they studied what causes this.
  175. Why are they protected against radiation?
  176. And they found a gene
    responsible for that.
  177. They took that gene
    and added it to human cells.
  178. Now you have a human cell
    but with a gene from another creature.
  179. They took these engineered cells
    and exposed them to UV radiation,
  180. and what happened?
  181. The immune cells
    were resistant to radiation.
  182. They gained 40% resistance.
  183. So we could acquire this trait.
  184. We could add it to human embryos,
  185. which would definitely
    be helpful against cancer.
  186. And there are many other creatures
    that have incredible super strength
  187. which we could also add
    to the human genome.
  188. Now let's imagine a future
  189. where we have eradicated cancer,
    and it no longer exists.
  190. Do you know how much money
    we spend on cancer medication?
  191. In 2015, the world spent
    107 billion dollars on cancer medication.
  192. By 2020 it is expected to be
    150 billion dollars.
  193. And that is just on cancer medication.
  194. There are still billions of dollars
    that are spent on cancer research.
  195. We are flooding a lot of money
    into cancer research,
  196. and we are ignoring other diseases
    that are also as important:
  197. Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis,
    heart failure, spinal cord injuries,
  198. and the list goes on and on.
  199. These diseases also kill people.
    They make them terminally ill as well.
  200. And if we just keep flooding
    all the resources that we have
  201. into cancer research,
  202. then we are not heading
    into the right future.
  203. So, imagine a world
  204. where we don't have to spend that money
    on cancer research anymore.
  205. Cancer has been eradicated.
  206. Everybody is born
    with a built-in mechanism
  207. that protects them against cancer.
  208. We can now use that money
    to study other diseases
  209. and learn about their genetics.
  210. And in a few short years, we will use
    what we learned about their genetics
  211. to apply the same technique
    and treat them.
  212. So this will be our gate
    not only to treating cancer
  213. but also other diseases.
  214. If we have the knowledge
    and the technology
  215. to do something as remarkable as this,
    then what is stopping us?
  216. Well, there are a number of challenges
    that we have to overcome
  217. before we can make this a reality.
  218. The first challenge is bioethics.
  219. As I said, we're working
    with embryos here.
  220. And most of the countries, now,
  221. do not allow research on human embryos
  222. beyond 14 days.
  223. So after 14 days,
    the human embryos are destroyed.
  224. They are not allowed
    for scientific research.
  225. So how are we supposed to understand
    the potential of this treatment
  226. if we aren't less strict with the rules?
  227. The problem with bioethics
  228. is that the rules that we established
    against scientific research do not change.
  229. Science and technology continue to evolve,
  230. but the rules that we established
    50 years ago do not change;
  231. we don't revisit them.
  232. And that is a big problem.
  233. And this is why I believe
  234. that the rule of 14 days
    on embryonic therapy
  235. should be revisited,
  236. we should discuss it more,
  237. and we should be less strict
  238. so we can understand the potential
    of embryonic treatment.
  239. We will unlock unlimited potential
    of such treatment
  240. if we become less strict with the rules.
  241. The second challenge is business interest.
  242. It's quite clear that cancer
    is a stable source of income.
  243. It's a problem, and as long as
    the problem exists,
  244. some people will continue
    to profit from it.
  245. And it is those people who invest
    their money in cancer research.
  246. So why would they invest it
    into the area of research
  247. that could eradicate cancer
    once and for all?
  248. So that is a big problem.
    Business interest.
  249. If we eradicated cancer,
  250. we're going to destroy
    many business interests
  251. for companies and individuals
    who profit from the condition.
  252. But luckily, part of the money
    that is spent on cancer research
  253. also comes from
    public funding: governments.
  254. Where do they get their money?
  255. From you, the taxpayer.
  256. Part of your money
    goes to cancer research.
  257. And we have control over that.
  258. So if we spend that money
    on new areas of cancer research,
  259. then we might be onto something,
  260. instead of having the monopoly
    of only focusing on the same areas.
  261. As I said, for almost 50 years,
    we haven't seen remarkable progress.
  262. The last challenge is public awareness.
  263. Now, the problem with society today
    is that we keep our minds shut.
  264. We're not open-minded when it comes
    to a new revolution in technology.
  265. We just don't accept it -
  266. even if we haven't learned
    a great deal about it,
  267. even if we didn't educate ourselves.
  268. And that is a big problem.
  269. You have seen in online forums,
    the rise of ignorance,
  271. and people who are objecting
    scientific knowledge, rise of technology
  272. simply because
    they don't understand it,
  273. simply because they don't learn about it,
  274. or maybe we're not doing a good job
    of educating them.
  275. So it's very important
  276. for people to keep open minds
    towards technology and science.
  277. Learn more about these available options
    before saying yes or no.
  278. And it is your responsibility,
    since you know about this now,
  279. to bring this discussion
    to other people who don't know about it.
  280. More people will know.
  281. We can influence the decision makers
    to break the rule of 14 days
  282. so scientists can now study embryos,
  283. we can unlock the potential
    of embryonic treatments,
  284. and we can defeat cancer.
  285. The applications of science are endless,
  286. and the possibilities are limitless,
  287. and the choice is only ours now.
  288. Either to keep cancer as a friend
    by embracing ignorance and greed,
  289. or defeat our enemy once and for all
  290. by embracing selflessness
    and rational thinking.
  291. Thank you.
  292. (Applause)