By Victoria Gao
This story highlights the positive and negative impacts of gene editing tools on a person’s health and personality with the use of time travel and fantasy character, the Immortal Wish Maker.
At Van Cortlandt Park, I cheer as Samantha approaches the finish line of a 5K race. With swift repetitive movements, she propels her body through the other runners and crosses the finish line first. As I approach Samantha to congratulate her, she suddenly stumbles and clasps the sides of her head in pain. Her legs crumple underneath her and her body lands on the concrete with a loud crack.
When doctors open the operating room doors, I rush forward to help them wheel Samantha’s stretcher. Her head is wrapped in white bandages with specks of blood.
Once Samantha falls asleep, I schedule an appointment with the neurologist who performed the MRI. An hour later, the doctor shows me black and white snapshots of Samantha’s brain taken from different angles. He points to a large white lump in the bottom right part of the brain, and says, “A brain tumor has permanently impaired Samantha’s facial recognition and hearing abilities. Ms. Campbell, I’m sorry to tell you, your daughter has been diagnosed with Stage III brain cancer.”
“W-w-what are the next steps for treatment?”
“I recommend getting surgery to remove her brain tumor. Afterwards, Samantha will need radiation or chemotherapy treatments to stop the cancer from spreading. Here is a list of potential costs on the hospital bill.”
I accept the slip of paper with shaking hands, realizing that all the money saved for Samantha’s college tuition is not even enough for more than one treatment.
Outside the hospital, I watch the sky darken and feel water droplets snake an icy finger down my spine. I’m in disbelief of my daughter’s dire medical state. If only I could go back in time and remove Samantha’s mutated genes before she was born to significantly lower her chances of getting cancer.
Sixteen years ago, my partner Jake and I visited a laboratory every three weeks to combine our reproductive cells to form frozen embryos. Via CRISPR technology, we removed genes associated with bad traits and inserted genes for perfect health, athleticism, and intelligence. However, the genetically modified embryos wouldn’t grow inside my womb for more than a week. As I approached menopause, the chances of conceiving a child diminished. The last time I visited the lab, I told the lab technician to only implant unaltered embryos despite Jake’s vehement protests.
One of the unaltered embryos successfully developed inside me. On the day Samantha was born, my heart was singing and I couldn’t wait to show the baby to Jake. Instead, I was greeted with my belongings and bills from fifteen failed embryo implantations scattered across the front porch. There was a new brass lock on the front door, and I was left to raise Samantha as a single mom. Who could have guessed what the decision to have an unmodified baby would bring.
Suddenly, the rain stops falling. As I round the corner of a street, the street lamp illuminates a lady wearing a sparkly white wool cloak. She holds up a disk that spins and flashes groups of numbers and letters every few seconds.
“01-10-2112 15:30. 40ºN 74ºW.”
“I can let you travel back to the hour before Samantha’s embryo was implanted in your womb if you agree to be my apprentice for the rest of my life. When I pass away, you will replace me as the Immortal Wish Maker,” the lady says.
“What does an Immortal Wish Maker do?” I ask.
“Travel to different universes and time periods to grant other people’s wishes if they are willing to pay a price.”
I shudder at the thought of leaving the world I am familiar with. But, the possibility of changing Samantha’s fate gives me the courage to accept the Wish Maker’s terms. She presses the center of the spinning disk and vanishes in a flash of white light. A gust of wind blows around me, and when I open my eyes, I am sitting in the lab technician’s office. He hands me a contract stating the cost and risks for implanting unaltered embryos.
Feeling confident in the fate of this embryo’s success, I ask the lab technician if we can remove the oncogenes associated with brain cancer before it’s implanted. The lab technician nods and has his assistant edit the genes of the embryos. Nine months later, a baby girl is born. Doctors delivering the baby exclaim that she is healthy and will become an outstanding athlete. At the age of four, she already has the endurance to run a mile every morning. As she grows up, she wins medals at every race she participates in. At the age of sixteen, she doesn’t develop brain cancer and is qualified to try out for the Olympics. She wins gold medals for the USA but brings them home with vacant eyes. With a genetically modified body, she wins races without setbacks or hardcore training. I smile as I see my daughter grow into a young adult with a bright future. Before long, I see a flash of light and a spinning disk. The time is ripe for my apprenticeship.
After reading about how genes play a role in the development of cancer, I wanted to explore how technology can be used to genetically modify embryos to prevent people from developing diseases. I decided to use time travel and fantasy elements to show how gene editing tools can change people’s lives in positive and negative ways.
Victoria Gao is a passionate writer and high school student. As a Girls Write Now mentee, she enjoys exploring different writing and multimedia genres such as science fiction and erasure poetry. She is also a writer for her high school newspaper and enjoys informing others about current events.
A MONTH IN REVIEW: ABROAD IN COPENHAGENby Joanna Tan