Anxious? Try Cutting It Out: Pastoral Reflections on Gene Editing

Scientists recently deleted a gene for anxiety in mice. Are gene editing studies like this cause for celebration or concern? Pastor Mario Russo (@marusso) weighs in.

As a scientist and molecular biologist, I thought the article was really good. All of the concerns (and hopes) that Mario Russo bring up are very valid and are part of the discussion that scientists are having in the field. When the results of a gene editing experiment in China were made public it was the larger scientific research community that strongly spoke out against it. I can’t speak for big pharma, but the research community is very much on the side of caution when it comes to gene editing.


As someone who suffers from anxiety related to PTSD, if such editing could be done without any editing happening in the wrong place I’d welcome it, and here’s why: Anxiety disorder sufferers are in a no-win situation due to the only quickly effective anxiety medications having the same long-term risk as anxiety itself – both are implicated in increasing the risk of dementia. The alternatives at present are alcohol, which has its own problems as a bit of a depressant, and marijuana, which also has its own problems especially when smoked (the most common mode of smoking, using a lighter held to a pipe, has a high risk for cancer, not because of the marijuana but because of the compounds formed when burning the fluid in the lighter). Marijuana edibles are effective, but not really quick-acting, plus unless the dose is just right there can be total failure to help or a possibility of tipping things from mere anxiety into dark paranoia.

If only there was a way to do a trial run…


The parallels between side effects from medications and gene editing are interesting. We know that medications can have side effects, so we are always balancing risk vs. reward. Is the cure worse than the disease?

The bigger question with gene editing is if it can be passed on to offspring. Consent is a very big deal in both medicine and research. Someone’s future child can not consent to having their genome altered. This has led to technologies that try to prevent alteration of germ line cells, such as the methods used to gene edit red blood cell precursors outside of the body and then re-implant them. This has led to gene editing treatments for sickle cell anemia:

There is no chance of germline alterations, so there is no risk of passing on genetic alterations to future generations. If any risk exists, it will be the patient who faces those risks of which I assume they were well informed. This is an adult assessing the possible rewards and risks and is giving informed consent. This is also a debilitating disease, not something driven by vanity. This checks all the boxes of where to start with gene editing in human medicine.


I don’t see much of a difference if it would ameliorate some condition, whether a genetic affliction or just poor eyesight; after all, future children don’t get to consent to being born, either.
If I could go back and edit my germ cells to eliminate the genetics that led to bipolar disorder and those that gave me weak bones (thus keeping me out of the Coast Guard) I’d do it in a flash and then choose to have kids because I wouldn’t be putting them at risk for two things that screwed up my life.


Scientists and medical professionals are much more sensitive to ethical issues surrounding consent. Some might say that we are overly sensitive in some areas, but I would rather be overly sensitive than not sensitive enough. A lot has to do with abuses in the past, but it is also a big part of gaining public trust especially when you are funded by public money.

One ethical way of doing this (IMO) would be to change the disease allele to a known healthy allele so that it is in line with known human genetics. There would still be a risk of off target changes, at least with modern technology. Another possibility that is probably less attractive to many Christians is in vitro selection of embryos that lack those conditions which would require both parents to have one healthy allele for a given gene.


Thanks for the comment! Great point about adding the voices of scientists. Most of the time people assume what scientists think and say. We would be surprised to learn what many scientists think about bioethical issues. We should include their voices more often.

1 Like

So, I’m currently studying holistic therapy massage and as part of my study I have to do some essays. In my research I came across this article.

It suggests massage has the power to turn on and off genes relating to inflammation in the body and genes that promote healing.

I’ve also been looking into a lot of vegas nerve theory in resetting trauma. The bodies autonomic nervous system and rebalancing and recovery.

With this in mind how are we seeing anxiety, as one of the bodies warnings, a call to action, you need to address some trauma that’s having a huge effect on your physiological and mental health or as a wart to be lanced off. The latter being the superficial cosmetic treatment.

Repression, denial and avoidance will lead a lot of people to the lanced wart option of treatment.

Modern medicine refuses to acknowledge grass roots medicine and treatment and is built around capitalising on emergency. Which is great in an emergency, if my leg was injured and needed emergency treatment, or kidney needed removing with a corse of follow on medication and treatment, that’s great. It has its place and thank god for that.

But what about how we maintain optimal homeostasis in the first instance before our bodies fail us, and in the case of disruption to that optimum homeostasis how do we regulate and restore it.

I suffer from anxiety and it depends on what the individual is after a superficial cure or an on going journey of self discovery, knowledge, understanding and healing?

Just to add I’m not anti gene editing as such, though probably more pro embryo selection and screening in the first instance for congenital disorders.

I do believe there’s a massive caution to exercise in whipping things out that can’t be put back. Like adding too much salt to a meal, once it’s done it’s salty and ruined.

Also as a carcinogen.

I’m wondering if this works on more than just muscles: right up into grad school I had friends I’d go running with and then trade massage afterwards, and it has struck me that my bipolar and PTSD didn’t really hit until that was no longer a part of my life.

How about just a reset to where dropping a knife while making a sandwich or my buddy’s dog barking at a stranger don’t tip me into a fight/flight/freeze response?

I’m not sure if that was a pedantic response, or the text came across out of its intention. I appreciate what I’m saying sounds whacky.

There’s just a lot of science out there on this kind of stuff but it’s not advocated, even rubbished.

We are in nature social creatures and touching to sooth and later talking and listening to connect are at our real basic instincts. It’s the difference between people who can self regulate after trauma and people who can’t.

Cancer survival rates go up if patients attend talking therapies.

People who breathe through their mouths suffer anxiety and other health problems, yes there’s a correct way to breathe to assist the body in self regulating. Sounds ridiculous I know! But there’s a whole science on that too. Breathing through your mouth wears out the bodies nervous system, stresses the immune system and leads to a decline in physical and mental health. When people have panic attacks they start doing deep mouth breathing which just causes hyperventilation.

If the article on massage being able to affect gene functions for inflammation in the body is correct, then a professional massage should hypothetically offer the same hopeful treatments for anxiety disorders. Massage is often used as a complimentary therapy to work alongside or improve the effectiveness of medications for illness and disorders.

Vagal nerve theory stuff is still being understood but I’m just saying there’s kinder less aggressive ways to treat and handle people before we cut bits out of them.

That being said we also need to account for neuro diversity. No, we all don’t want to live in big noisy cities, feel comfortable in crowds and like hustle and bustle and loud surprise noises.

Though we’re in less control of our external environment. Being able to be kind to ourselves and accept that “busy” or “loud”, overwhelms our sensitive nature may be an issue of just that, acceptance. Regardless of whether we were always that way or life has lead us to seek quieter, calmer places.

I didn’t see anything wacky, which is why I asked follow-up questions.

So there could be a link between when I stopped regularly trading massage with fellow runners and the onset of PTSD & bipolar.

Except for my first two years in college, I never really liked any city bigger than I could jog around in a day.

I’m a lay-person with a solid but old and neglected high school and undergrad science and math education. My blood type is humanities. By profession I am a librarian.

Speaking as a librarian, the article you shared is at best a secondary source, a lay-person’s-level overview, filtered through a reporter who may or may not understand and therefore be able to report accurately on the work in question. There is no evaluation of the original work or methods. Really no description of the procedure, either.

Providing the original paper by the doctor doing the work is really essential. I see that it is behind a paywall, and the abstract is, well, abstract enough that results data are not included or a precise description of procedure and methods.

In the abstract alone, I see, the original article will require knowledge of biology that is beyond me. So, I will have to rely on biologists to help me understand and evaluate what the article says. But the primary source is essential.

Finally, I notice that both articles (the one you linked and the one linked from it) are over 11 years old. What work has been done on this topic in the meantime, and what discussion has taken place in the literature (pro, con, application, variation, etc)?



Yes all what you’re saying is true, I can’t argue that, the hard medical research isn’t there for the end result. I read articles and not the original abstract science papers.

But it’s entirely plausible, you get the body to enter a state of rest by an enzyme responsible for deactivating a gene responsible for anxiety building up around that gene. This chemical reaction is triggered by touch as it relaxes the body and taps into our evolutionary programmed desire to connect.

Sounds like pretty basic body stuff.

There’s a link between body and mind, stressed mind, stressed body and visa versa, trauma happens on a cellular level not just in your head, we don’t feel touch as just “that’s nice”, it has a physical therefore biological effect.

Massage does send the body into a physical rest and digest state, I see this as a possible explanation of what’s happening to the body on a compound level, than cellular, than system, which is where we get to rest and digest.

Really if you look at it like that it’s not new news, it’s just explained as such in the article that it sounds pretty new news as it talks about relaxation on a molecular level rather than as a system experience.

I can’t comment really I’m not an expert on this stuff, but it’s entirely plausible the experience of fellowship, talking, sharing and massage, helped to pacify symptoms of trauma you’d experienced or were experiencing.

When you experience trauma your body is reacting to not feeling safe, even once the immediate threat has passed, hence PTSD.

Running is a self regulator for stress anyway and the group activity and massage offers a feeling of unity, community, safety and relaxation. A good pacifier and healer!

Sometimes the body just suppresses trauma and it pops up when for whatever reason the body can’t suppress it anymore.

If you’re bipolar, then I guess you are bipolar, but I guess certain activities could help regulate your mood and improve symptoms.

I’d try visiting a qualified professional massage therapist with an ITEC qualification and explore the avenue to see if it helps you, though being opened up physically can cause you to need to open up emotionally so if your not with a talking therapist the two together would complement your needs.

That said as previously answered I imagine the article explains what’s happening to the body on a molecular level, regarding the gene deactivation, again the science research isn’t there but it’s not something I’d poo poo and I really do believe in. It’s just worth exploring as a holistic approach to healing obviously along side whatever the Dr is prescribing Etc…

Nice to have someone remind us of the basics!
Shows just how much I’ve lost my edge since grad school.

One more reason the U.S. ought to get in gear and have national health coverage: despite what appear to be well-known benefits for anxiety, not many insurance plants cover it except for very limited conditions. I’ll have to check to see I have have coverage for it for anxiety etc.

Meh. It’s my bread and butter.

And within the last 4 years I learned to obsess about the date stamp as well. During the height of COVID all of a sudden the dates on articles and so-called studies were essential. Sometimes a week made the difference, particulary in the responsible popular presses, between the “best information available” to “obsolete.”


@St.Roymond you mentioned the need for public insurance. I agree we need it. I support universal coverage. @Serena82 brought up an inportant point, though, that holistic treatments have not been tested, certainly not with the rigor that insurance-covered prescription medicines, and most medical treatments have been.

Before tax dollars are paying for it, though, I’d “prefer” that any therapy is rigorously-tested and well-demonstrated to be far more effective than plecebo. Likewise, I would like to see the pricing comensurate with the effectiveness of the treatment beyond the that of plecebo.

I live in a part of my state where people swear by “supplements” and homeopathy “cupping” and ear candles. There would be demands that these patent “medicines” or ltreatments” are covered by public insurance. “Show it with real, rigorous studies.” Design the study, and start gathering funds to do it. Like everyone else doing serious research.

Before public health services monies are used to pay for treatments as medicine, I want to know that they actually conform to those standards rather than high-end spa treatments. If we think about how the poor in the US (a Christian country, people keep telling me) can barely/rarely get some of the most basic health care to stay alive, i want to know that whatever is paid for is “reliable” and needed. We have to prioritize.

Ok. Stepping down from my soapbox now.