Professor John Rasko explores how gene therapy will change what it means to be human

07 November 2018
Professor John Rasko examines developments in cell science and genetics in his ABC Boyer Lecture series.
The power of gene therapy to cure disease, prolong life and change the course of human evolution was explored by Professor John Rasko in the landmark 60th year of the ABC’s Boyer Lecture series.

Professor Rasko’s ‘Life Re-engineered’ lectures, which were broadcast on ABC RN’s Big Ideas in October, examined how developments in cell science and genetics are transforming medicine and changing what it means to be human.

“We stand at the start of a revolution that may alter the very fabric of our being and the essence of what it means to be human,” Professor Rasko said. “Reproductive technologies and gene- and cell-based technologies offer the possibility of prolonging life and curing disease – and controlling even our evolution as a species”.

Professor Rasko AO is President of the International Society for Cell & Gene Therapy, Head of the Department of Cell & Molecular Therapies at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Professor of Medicine at the University of Sydney’s Centenary Institute. In 2012, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to biomedical research in the field of gene and cell therapy, as a clinician, author, administrator and philanthropist.

ABC Chairman Justin Milne said: “John Rasko is an Australian pioneer in the application of adult stem cells and genetic therapy and his Boyer Lectures come at a crucial time. Gene therapy will give many people longer and healthier lives but at the same time these technologies raise ethical and moral issues we will need to resolve.”

Across four lectures, Professor Rasko explored:
  • How advances in biomedicine, such as prenatal testing and gene therapy, have revived the debate around eugenics – a concept poisoned by its association with the Nazis.
  • How gene therapies will not only enable us to cure inheritable diseases but to re-engineer ourselves at the most basic level.
  • Why stem cell research has had such a scandal-prone history, promising the dawn of regenerative medicine but delivering few therapeutic wonders.
  • Whether having the power to re-engineer life gives us the right to do so – a question Mary Shelley posed 200 years ago in her novel Frankenstein.
The Boyer Lectures, which began in 1959, are given each year by a prominent Australian about major social, cultural, scientific or political issues. Prime Ministers, Governors General, High Court judges, archbishops, artists, poets, scientists and business leaders are among those who have shared their ideas and concerns over the past 60 years.

Professor John Rasko is a member of the Stem Cells Australia Development Advisory Committee

Source: ABC Australia.