CRISPR to the Rescue


Genetic therapies present exciting possibilities and one place that's now leading with cutting edge experiments is China. Today only ten human clinical trials in the world use a technology called CRISPR which makes gene editing possible, and nine of those trials are in China. CRISPR is short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.

In bacteria, where CRISPR was first described and characterized, it represents a primitive immune system that protects bacteria from invading viruses. Some clever biologists recognized that the CRISPR system could be used for genome editing. This means we have a powerful tool to correct genetic mistakes and to alter the properties of human cells ' like fighting cancer.

In two thousand fifteen, Chinese scientists used CRISPR to edit the genome of a human embryo. This sent shock waves around the scientific world and now other Chinese scientists are altering human immune cells to enhance their cancer fighting properties.

One approach alters a gene for a protein called programmed cell death protein one. Scientists have used CRISPR to knock out the protein in immune cells. By doing so, cancer cells can't activate this protein and cause the immune cell to self-destruct. This allows immune cells to do their job of killing cancer cells. Variations of this approach are also being used to attack prostate, lung, and bladder cancers. Others are replacing T-cell receptors with ones that destroy leukemia cells.

Even though some fear CRISPR could be used to create 'customized' super babies, it can become a powerful weapon against our most stubborn diseases.

More Information

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