CRISPR co-discoverer on the gene editor’s pandemic push – Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the development of CRISPR-based tests for detecting disease and highlighting how gene-editing tools might one day fight pandemics, one of its discoverers, Jennifer Doudna, tells Axios.

Why it matters: Testing shortages and backlogs underscore a need for improved mass testing for COVID-19. Diagnostic tests based on CRISPR which Doudna and colleagues identified in 2012, ushering in the "CRISPR revolution" in genome editing are being developed for dengue, Zika and other diseases, but a global pandemic is a proving ground for these tools that hold promise for speed and lower costs.

Driving the news: Last week, the NIH awarded $250 million for the development of COVID-19 diagnostic tests to a handful of companies, including Mammoth Biosciences, which is working on a CRISPR-based test that CEO Trevor Martin says will deliver 200 tests per hour per machine.

The challenge now is "getting it into a format where it can be used easily either in a laboratory or at the point-of-care," like the doctor's office or home, she says.

How it works: Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR, are sequences of genetic code that bacteria naturally use to find and destroy viruses.

That editing ability is viewed as having vast potential for treating disease, a nascent use of CRISPR.

But there's a persistent problem: Getting the sizable CRISPR system through the membranes and to the DNA of the cells that need editing.

And, there are other concerns about off-target editing with currently available enzymes and unknown long-term effects of gene editing directly in the body.

The intrigue: CRISPR could one day be wielded in future pandemics.

Yes, but: That would require sophisticated understanding of how a virus changes and the immune system's complex response to it.

The big picture: Such "genetic vaccination" is a long way off, but it could eliminate having to wait until a virus shows up, make a vaccine to that virus and then vaccinate people, she says.

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CRISPR co-discoverer on the gene editor's pandemic push - Axios

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