Wouldn’t it have been good if we had ‘Magic Scissors’ that could eliminate disease, solve world hunger problem, create unlimited clean energy…..it’s no longer a future technology…..the technology is already among us. Discovery of this technology has been hailed as ‘monumental moments in the history of biomedical research’ by David Baltimore a Nobel laureate.
This post is all about this ‘Magic Scissors’, a new gene editing technology, known as CRISPR-Cas9 and what it can do to science and how it can impact common man’s life. This Scissors promises myriad of wonderful opportunities as well as frightening ethical challenges .
What is this ‘Magic Scissors’
What we are, what we look like or how healthy we are , all are dependent on genetic material DNA. DNA is like a record of instructions which tells the cell what its job is going to be. In simple way, DNA is to human cells, as codes are to computers. As codes control the functioning of computer, Genes present within interwined DNA regulates the functions of the cell. So if there is an error in these codes or some external organism like virus attacks cells, the normal programming of cells gets affected and the cells won’t function normally. This is what leads to diseases. The best option to make the cell up and running, would be to erase or alter the corrupted codes from Genes. This is what CRISPR-Cas9 does with high precision.
Little deep into CRISPR CAS9…for curious minds
CRISPR or “Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” was isolated from bacterial system. The CRISPR-CAS9 system comprises of two components – Guide RNA and CAS9 endonuclease. Guide RNA can be tailor-made to perfectly match a sequence of DNA (the mutated or corrupted DNA) and CAS9 will do slicing act with precision. So one end binds to the target gene or wrong gene, and the other end delivers a DNA-cutting enzyme, which will remove with accuracy the wrong gene.
Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in German demonstrated for the first time the full potential of CRISPR in 2012.
CRISPR, ‘The Magic Scissors’, is worth the hype. This technology will help to fight cancer, treat Alzheimer’s and eradicate Malaria. It’s an exciting development and scientists from across the globe from different fields are gung ho about this ‘new editor’.
What could CRISPR Do ?
Time for Super Plants
Imagine we can get mangoes all around the year or can make strawberries to grow in deserts. Researchers are currently experimenting with ways to improve crop disease resistance and environmental stress tolerance using CRISPR. CRISPR would steer an era of super plants with yields higher than ever.
Let’s Treat HIV
HIV has been eluding scientists for a long time. But no longer. In 2015, scientists used CRISPR to cut HIV cells out of living cells of patients in a laboratory – proving that it is possible. By injecting CRISPR into the rats with HIV, they were able to remove 48 per cent of the virus from the DNA of their body cells. Although the experiments are still in their infancy, it looks like CRISPR could be the ultimate solution to cure HIV and ultimately AIDS.
Could it help cure cancers?
Cancer is not just about one single gene error, hence it may not be possible to target the disease directly. Scientists are looking at the possibility of using it in cell therapy, where patients’ own immune cells would be taken out, modified and re-introduced to patients as ‘Powered up cells’. The cells with super power could help in eliminating cancer cells. Team from China has already injected into cancer patients with cells that contain genes edited using the revolutionary CRISPR–Cas9 technique. China is leading the race to cure cancer using CRISPR.
It’s just not Cancer and HIV, CRISPR is now used in clinical trials to cure disease like Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, blood disorders like hemophilia and sickle cell disease, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s, lung cancer, metabolic liver disease, congenital blindness, and cystic fibrosis.
Going unethical with CRISPR
Imagine parents could boosts children’s intelligence, snip off undesired traits like dark skin or introduce most wanted traits like blue eyes, blonde hair……Scenario can become bad too, in case the changes made by CRISPR miss fires and we create an undesired faulty or monster like human being. This is not going to be a thing of future, first step towards it is already laid. Human embryos has been edited for first time in the US using CRISPR in 2017 July.
Word of caution
CRISPR works and scientists knows that it works well. But there are challenges and dangers, in terms of getting therapy to work in humans, to ensure its efficiency, delivery and safety. Danger comes from the fact that sometimes CRISPR might make some unintended changes to other parts of the genome, called off-target effects. No one is quite sure how often this happens. That would mean, there is no foolproof way to make sure that CRISPR would exactly work in the way we desire it to work.