Biotech Updates

Salk Scientists Use Modified CRISPR System to Treat Diseases

December 13, 2017

Scientists at Salk Institute for Biological Studies have developed a new version of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology that enabled them to activate genes without creating breaks in the DNA. This breakthrough has the potential to help human disease treatment using gene editing tools.

With the original CRISPR-Cas9 system, the process entails use of Cas9 enzyme together with guide RNAs that target the location where double strand breaks will be created. Recently, some scientists used a "dead" version of Cas9 which targets specific locations in the genome but no longer cuts the DNA. Instead, the dCas9 comes with molecular switches that turn on targeted genes. However, the dCas9 and its switches are too big to fit in the viruses used to deliver them into cells of living organisms.

Izpisua Belmonte and his team from Salk combined Cas9/dCas9 with various activator switches to search for a combination that worked even when the proteins were not fused to one another. Then, they packaged the Cas9 or sCas9 into one virus, and the switches and guide RNAs into another virus. As a proof of concept, they used their new approach to treat succesfully several diseases, including diabetes, acute kidney disease, and muscular dystrophy, in mouse models.

Watch the video from Salk for more information.