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Case Study: Gene Therapy for Enhancement Purposes

Dr. Anderson specializes in a particular type of gene therapy that targets Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).  Neural degeneration and synapse loss in the brain are characteristic of AD.  Therefore, this gene therapy aims to protect neurons from degeneration and enhance the function of any neurons that are remaining. Dr. Anderson has two patients request her services. However, after an initial meeting with them, she is unsure whether she should treat them both.

Alexis is a 50 year-old woman who has a family history of AD and is already beginning to experience very mild symptoms of what she thinks is AD.  She tells Dr. Anderson that her mother was afflicted with AD. So, she knows first-hand the sadness and frustration the family of an AD patient has to experience.  Alexis has a husband and three children and does not want to put them through the same difficult journey. Therefore, she is requesting the gene therapy to reverse the small-scale symptoms she already has and prevent the onset of the disease.

Kelly is a 21 year-old college student who is applying for medical school in the very near future.  Her academic history is strong but not exceptional.  For this reason, Kelly fears that she will not be accepted to the top medical schools. Kelly wants to attend medical school so she can help underserved populations and work in impoverished areas that lack good healthcare. She tells Dr. Anderson that she would like to receive the Alzheimer’s gene therapy in hopes it will boost her memory and enhance neural function.  Kelly believes a good score on the MCAT will strengthen her application and enable her to fulfill her dream of providing medical aid to the world’s neediest people.

Dr. Anderson decides to treat Alexis, as she feels that Alexis is the type of patient that the therapy is designed for.  However, she conflicted about offering the treatment for Kelly.  She doesn’t like the idea of withholding medical treatment from a patient, but the treatment was not originally intended for enhancement purposes.

Should Dr. Anderson treat Kelly?

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