Stanford scientists are creating a ‘superhero’ vaccine based on DNA of Olympic athletes which could protect people against leading causes of death such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s
(Mansur Shaheen) A ‘superhero’ vaccine that could protect against a multitude of diseases could come into existence within the next decade.
Dr Euan Ashley, a professor at Stanford University and genetic scientist, and his team are working on the vaccine, and believes it could realistically be available in the not-so-far future.
Ashley says his vaccine would use genetic information from people with desirable traits – such as Olympic athletes – as a blueprint to repair DNA cells in a way that will strengthen the average persons genes.
It could potentially protect people from conditions that are the leading causes of death such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and liver disease.
Ashley believes the vaccine could begin trials as early as 2026, and be available for use in 10 to 15 years.
‘Potentially millions of people could be impacted by this technology – a superhero jab, for want of a better description,’ he said in a statement.
‘This has the potential to greatly reduce the burden of diseases with a genetic component such as Alzheimer’s disease, liver disease, coronary heart disease and associated conditions such as strokes, and vascular dementia.’
Ashley is the founding director of the Stanford Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease the Clinical Genomics Program, where he leads research on heart disease and gene science.
He told DailyMail.com that he got the idea for the vaccine while studying why certain populations seem more resilient to certain diseases than others.
‘The inspiration for the idea comes from studying large populations where we find that some individuals are resistant to certain diseases,’ he said.
‘We can then use an understanding of why those people are resilient to create new therapies. One of those approaches is to use gene editing to change as little as one letter in the at risk person’s genome to make them more resistant to disease.
‘At the moment, these “resilience” genes have been identified for heart disease, for Alzheimer’s disease, and for liver disease. But in the future we might discover people resistant to a whole host of human diseases.’
The vaccine will work by first finding people with genetic mutations that make them have more desirable traits.
For example, many Olympians have genetic advantages that allow them to perform at such a high level.
Their advantages on the sports field transfer into health as well, as they often have stronger hearts, lungs, and other organs due to specific genetic differences.
Genes that make someone more resilient to certain conditions can come from anyone, though, turning the search for these genes into a worldwide search.
The vaccine could create an instruction kit for a persons genes that could be injected into their body.
Once the kit arrives at its destination, it will begin to rewrite corrupted DNA and give a person gene’s that make them less susceptible to conditions like heart disease.
‘The scientific work underlying the potential of the “vaccine” has been ongoing for many years in many different groups,’ he said.
‘One of last year’s Nobel prizes was given to two scientists who developed the technology for CRISPR gene editing. At the moment different groups and companies are working on different diseases but eventually these might be combined.’
The technology is similar to what Pfizer used to create its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
Currently, gene editing tools such as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) have made it cheaper and more accessible than ever for someone to partake in gene editing.
While at the moment, only experts can really use CRISPR, some believe that in the future gene editing will become common for lay-men to be using around the world.
Some have compared the use of CRISPR and other gene editing software to eugenics, the process of picking and choosing certain traits to continue in the gene pool.
Ashley says his vaccine avoids the ethical concerns of gene editing because traits are not passed along to future generations.
‘Any gene change only affects certain cells in the body of one person and no changes are passed on to future generations so the therapy is much more like a long lasting medication or vaccine than anything else,’ he said.
‘Instead of changing a cell signal like a regular medication does the treatment would change a gene letter. The advantage, just like a vaccine, is that you would only need one injection and so wouldn’t have to take it every day like a regular medicine.’