CRISPR Gene-Editing Tool Blocks SARS-CoV-2 Transmission In Human Cells, Find Scientists

CRISPR Gene-Editing Tool Blocks SARS-CoV-2 Transmission In Human Cells, Find Scientists CRISPR Technique (Representative image)
Snapshot
  • Scientists in Australia successfully block the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in infected human cells in lab tests using CRISPR gene-editing technology.

    CRISPR technology has countless applications, and researchers hope to use it to alter human genes to eliminate diseases, wipe out pathogens and more.

Scientists in Australia used the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) gene-editing technology to successfully block the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in infected human cells in lab tests paving the way for potential Covid-19 treatments. Now, the researchers behind this study are hoping to begin the animal trials soon. The latest findings were published on 13 July, and it may help the world to fight against the pandemic, which is showing no sign of ending soon.

The revolutionary technology CRISPR enables scientists to make changes to the DNA sequences and gene activity. In 2020, two scientists who pioneered CRISPR became the winners of the Nobel Prize. It has already shown promise in eradicating the genetic coding that leads to the development of cancer in children. This technology has countless applications, and researchers hope to use it to alter human genes to eliminate diseases, wipe out pathogens and more. The scientists in Australia who used this tool in their latest study said that it was effective against viral transmissions in lab tests.

As per the researchers who published the findings in the journal Nature Communications, they used an enzyme called CRISPR-Cas13b that attaches to specific RNA sequences on the SARS-CoV-2 and degrades the genome it requires to replicate within human cells.

Sharon Lewin from Australia's Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity said that the team of researchers designed the gene-editing tool to recognise the novel virus. The expert who is also the lead author of the study said that the CRISPR enzyme is triggered once the virus has been identified, and then it "chops up the virus". Lewin explained that "we targeted several parts of the virus – parts that are very stable and don't change and parts that are highly changeable – and all worked very well in chopping up the virus". As per the researchers, in samples of so-called "variants of concern," such as Alpha, their approach also stopped viral proliferation.

However, Lewin said that the CRISPR technique was probably "years, not months" away from becoming widely available in medicine and believes that it could be useful against the Covid-19. She noted that "we still need better treatments for people who are hospitalised for Covid-19. Our current choices here are limited and at best they reduce the risk of death by 30 per cent".

According to her, the ideal treatment for the novel coronavirus infection would be a simple anti-viral given orally to patients as soon as they test positive for Covid-19. But the fact is that the therapeutic options are still limited and only partially effective. Lewin said: "This approach - test and treat - would only be feasible if we have a cheap, oral, and non-toxic anti-viral. That's what we hope to achieve one day with this gene scissors approach".

However, another advantage of the study, according to co-author Mohamed Fareh of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, is that it might be extended to other viral disorders. The scientist said that the power of the gene-editing tool, unlike traditional anti-viral medications, resides in its design flexibility and adaptability, "which make it a suitable drug against a multitude of pathogenic viruses including influenza, Ebola and possibly HIV".

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