Scientists are exploring gene-editing technology that could potentially be utilised to fight pandemics. We may never have to face another pandemic like coronavirus again…
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world into turmoil, with societal fears notably influenced by the lack of and uncertainty surrounding appropriate treatment methods. A suitable vaccine is yet to be developed, merely intensifying the prevalent global state of disquietude. Hence, simply telling people to wash their hands and stay at home will not satisfy the population. Such decree poses a mundane explanation for something that has devastated global economies, especially in this cognitive era. Gene-editing could be the solution to this pandemic. The world may never have to face another pandemic in the future.
Viruses enter human’s cells as DNA (double-stranded) and RNA (single-stranded). Crispr technology can be utilised to protect individuals from viral infection. When the virus attacks, the CRISPR system releases CRISPR RNA which guide proteins to bind to the viral DNA, destroying the specific DNA segment from within. Previous studies have used Cas9 to prevent the replication of double stranded DNA viruses and single-stranded RNA viruses that produce DNA during replication. However, most viruses, like coronavirus, do not produce such DNA intermediates. Another enzyme, CRISPR/Cas13 is a promising method to cleave single stranded RNA viruses.
“The nice thing about CRISPR systems and systems like Cas13 is that their initial purpose in bacteria was to defend against viral infection of bacteria, and so we sort of wanted to bring Cas13 back to its original function—and apply this to mammalian viruses in mammalian cells,” Freije, a doctoral student in virology at Harvard states.
Abbot, a PhD candidate at Stanford University’s Bioengineering Daprtment, has been working on applying gene manipulating Crispr technology to fight coronavirus. His concept utilises Crispr/Cas13 to attack the virus’s genetic makeup, making it incapable of penetrating human cells and self-replicating. Such was achieved by introducing coronavirus targeted Crispr/Cas13 into a solution of an inert synthesised fragment of the corona virus, with it found that the Crispr caused a reduction in the amount of virus present in the solution by 90 percent.
Nevertheless, this concept will still have to undergo further extensive research and experimentation until it can be classed as a feasible human treatment. The Stanford team has yet to develop a system to transport the Crispr complex into human cells. Additionally, there’s still a long journey from preprint to clinical testing. However, the significance of the Stanford’s team effort should not be neglected. When perfected, this technology will mean for a highly promising future of optimizing the systems’ treatment of various viral diseases.
Myhrvold, a doctor at Harvard, compliments the programmability of the Crispr/Cas13 technology. “Once you figure out how to do this well for one virus it’s not that hard to design sequences against another virus—or another one. Furthermore, if the virus changes its own sequence—as viruses are known to do, just during an outbreak or in response to therapy—you can very easily update the CRISPR RNA sequence and keep up with the virus.”
“This won’t end at just a concept—this will eventually be brought into something that’s rapidly deployable,” says Abbot. Humankind may expect a future where we can face a viral attack with solidarity.
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