Researchers in Australia have used CRISPR gene editing technology to successfully block the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in infected human cells.
Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study revealed the gene-editing tool was effective against viral transmissions in lab tests.
CRISPR works like a “molecular scissors” by allowing us to alter DNA sequences and modify gene function. It has already been shown to help patients suffering from blood disorders such as sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.
The team used an enzyme, CRISPR-Cas13b, that binds to relevant RNA sequences on the novel coronavirus and degrades the genome it needs to replicate inside human cells.
“Once the virus is recognised, the CRISPR enzyme is activated and chops up the virus,” lead author Sharon Lewin from Australia’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity told AFP.
Although there are several Covid-19 vaccines already on the market, available treatment options are still relatively scarce and only partially effective.
Dr Mohamed Fareh from the Peter MacCallum centre said the technology, which has previously been used to treat cancer, was a “game changer.”
“Instead of targeting viral proteins, you really target the root of the virus, which is its genome,” Dr Fareh told ABC Radio Melbourne.
The best part is that the technology can be reprogrammed to target any new virus variants within weeks.
Even though “it would take years” before CRISPR technology became widely available, Lewin insisted the tool could still prove useful in tackling Covid-19.
“We still need better treatments for people who are hospitalised for Covid,” she said. “Our current choices here are limited and at best they reduce the risk of death by 30 percent.” She said the ideal treatment would be a simple antiviral, taken orally, as soon as patients test positive for Covid-19.
“This approach — test and treat — would only be feasible if we have a cheap, oral and non-toxic antiviral. That’s what we hope to achieve one day with this gene scissors approach,” said Lewin.
Meanwhile, The World Health Organisation published a slew of recommendations on Monday and urged countries to ensure gene editing research remains ethical.
“As global research delves deeper into the human genome, we must minimise risks and leverage ways that science can drive better health for everyone, everywhere,” the WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said in a statement.
The WHO commissioned an expert group to study the implications of human gene editing back in 2018 after the case of He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist who claimed he had created the world’s first genetically-edited babies using CRISPR. These alterations meant that any changes that occurred in the babies’ genes would be replicated in sperm and egg cells as well. Therefore, the alterations would arise in every generation that they passed their DNA on to. Dr. He was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2019.
The W.H.O. said that Dr. He’s use of germline editing was irresponsible and called on countries to ensure that gene-editing is used for public good.
The remarkable news that CRISPR, that had previously only relied on ex vivo methods was successfully used in vivo to treat patients with transthyretin amyloidosis – rare degenerative disorder that affects the nerves and causes the heart to stiffen – proves that gene-editing is our future and is here to stay.
This is a major milestone for patients,” said Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, who shared a Nobel Prize for her work helping develop CRISPR.
From : pk.mashable.com