CRISPR Heart Mutation Correction successful: What Does the Future Hold?
US Scientists achieve significant stride in genetic engineering by a successful CRISPR heart mutation correction. We live in a time when science fiction could soon become a reality, an age where super computers fit in our pockets, and CRISPR a genetic technology could soon change our reality. It will change how we live, and what we consider to be normal forever! But what is it, what have scientists achieved, and how will it affect humanity?
What is CRISPR?
To fully understand this requires more detail than we have can write in this article. However, to put it succinctly, you need to understand the past. As a species, we have been dabbling with genetic engineering for thousands of years. Using selective breeding, we have successfully strengthened favorable traits in plants and animals. Over the centuries we became very good at this but did not fully understand how it worked.
However, in 1953, scientists discovered the structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). A complex molecule which guides the growth, development, function, and reproduction of all living organisms. Scientists quickly realized, if they could change DNA’s instructions, it could usher in a new era for genetic technology. Meaning, they could more accurately alter animals, and plants at a fundamental level.
The scope of genetic engineering includes food, livestock, and now, people. Although this is not news to many people, scientists were unclear on how these achievements would materialize. However, thanks to the discovery of CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Inter-spaced Short Palindromic Repeats). The genetic technology known as gene editing has radically changed. Costs to participate have now fallen to 99-percent of what they were.
Additionally, thanks to CRISPR the time it takes to conduct an experiment is now considerably less. Meaning that scientists with a lab can contribute to the growth in knowledge, but, the implications are much larger.
A Technical Revolution
How big a revolution? It has the potential to change our world, and us forever! So, what is CRISPR? In layman’s terms, it can be referred to as a DNA archive. A place where viral and other information can be stored for later use. An example of this is when a virus attacks and an organism survives, CRISPR stores its genetic information. Now, should that same virus attack again, an RNA copy is made and delivered to a protein called CAS9.
The protein then scans every cell of the organism looking for a perfect match for the Virus DNA. Should it be found, CAS9 cuts it out protecting the organism from the effects of the virus. While this was a revolutionary discovery, it wasn’t until scientists discovered that Crispr is programmable that all the fuss began. Why? Because it quickly became apparent that you could take a piece of DNA and edit it in a living cell.
The DNA Switch
This is where the revolution comes in; now we can switch genes on and off and target/study DNA sequences. Additionally, it works for every kind of cell, plant, micro-organisms, and more complex life forms like humans. Meaning that from a gene editing stand-point the future is a bright one, one that offers cures for incurable diseases. Plus, the promise of longer life spans, designer babies and more!
Armed with this genetic technology scientists all over the world have been working on ways to help humanity. What have they accomplished so far?
Remove a Genetically Inherited Heart Defect
A team of researches at Oregon Health and Science University have been experimenting with CRISPR and CAS9. This work used human embryos and centred around the removal of a genetically inherited heart mutation/defect.
The results of this experiment are mired in controversy, even with lead scientist Shoukhrat Mitalipov’s reassurances. The fear for many is that this represents the start of human genetic manipulation/designer babies. However, others prefer to predict that a world almost free of disease and genetic suffering could soon be a reality.
As for the approach used by Mitalipov and his team, that’s called germline editing. It means, that work is done at an embryonic stage, and as such information can be passed onto further generations. Was the experiment successful? Yes, the scientists were able to remove the heart defect at a genetic level. However, the embryos will not be implanted into a womb to grow.
The Fight Against HIV
Back in 2015, scientists worked with CRISPR and CAS9 on live human cells containing HIV. Together they enabled the world to see the potential of the technology be cutting it out of infected cells. This prompted further study and tests, however not all were on humans. Now, that it was seen to be possible, the experiment moved to rats which had the HIV infection in all of their cells.
This experiment included the injection of CRISPR into the tails of rats; the results once again proved its effectiveness. Almost half of all the HIV infected cells were removed. This is an accomplishment scientists hope to replicate in humans.
A Cure for Blindness?
Researchers in the U.S, have been using the genetic technology to edit damaged DNA. Using baby rats, they worked on a specific inherited disease called retinitis pigmentosa. A particularly nasty disease that affects millions worldwide. By targeting repair pathways in the affected cells, scientists were able to show the potential cure in mammals like rats and humans. Using CRISPR and CAS9, they were able to alter the DNA in the eyes of the rats. The results showed that the animals regained a significant portion of their sight.
The removal of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy from the germline, is nothing short of astounding. Right now, today one in 500-people suffer from it. However, the wider scope of CRISPR and its effects on everyday medicine could be incredibly dramatic. Meaning, that one day, aging could be a thing of the past, as could the common cold, flu, stomach bugs, even obesity.
In fact, the limits could only be as wide as a scientist’s imagination, think super soldiers, genetically altered space travellers and more!