A New Gene-editing Platform

The field of medicine is rapidly evolving, thanks to the inputs and dedicated works of millions of scientists worldwide. Quite often, groundbreaking breakthroughs and milestones keep being achieved, all of which have the resultant effects of prolonging human life and making it better.

In this entry, the latest medical breakthrough, the “clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) gene editing platform”, is going to be expounded.

Concept

The clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) is an RNA-guided gene-editing platform that is derived from the Streptococcus pyogenes which utilizes an endonuclease (Cas9) and a synthetic guide RNA so as to introduce double-strand breaks at specific points within the genome.

It was selected by the Science Magazine as the “2015 Breakthrough of the Year”. By use of this technology, molecular biologists are able to accomplish these feats:

Modifying the DNA

This is the alteration of the genomes of human embryos by among others getting rid of those traits or genetic materials that have the potential to pass on fatal genetic disorders and diseases from one generation to another. Chinese researchers at the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, have already succeeded in doing so.

Gene Therapy

It is the replacement and correction of genetic disorders by the addition of a corrected copy of a damaged or defective gene. Gene therapy is superior to traditional drug-based approaches in the sense that it deals with the root cause of the disease as opposed to the signs and symptoms only.

Preventing Diseases/Biomedicine

“Dead” versions of Cas9 (CRISPR associated protein 9) eliminates the ability of CRISPR’s to cut DNA while preserving their ability to target the desired sequences. Clinical research scientists are currently applying them to develop tissue-based remedies for cancer and some other diseases.

Improving Crops

The genomes of crops may be altered in such a manner as to make them resistant to pests, and diseases, and other extreme environmental conditions such as drought. This technology is therefore anticipated to usher in a new era of pest- and drought-resistant crops and thus contribute significantly towards the alleviation of extreme hunger.

Conclusion

It will be interesting to watch just how much the field of medicine is going to be impacted with this latest technological breakthrough that is currently in the infancy stage. Of particular concern will be the reaction of the church and other conservative religious establishments owing to their firm opposition to more or less similar breakthroughs in the past such as stem cell research and cloning on moral/ethical grounds.