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Our Future- Does it Look CRISPR?

Written by Harshita Parmar

Edited by Sharon Park and Jocelyn Wang


Hi everyone! This article on Crispr gene editing is the second article in our Technologies in Medicine series, where we explore how new technologies in healthcare have impacted the world, and how they will continue to do so in the future. Read on to learn about the groundbreaking new Crispr technology, and how it could change our world and medicine as we know it.

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The concept of gene editing has been around since the 1950s and include techniques such as zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and the recently discovered technique-CRISPR, which is also becoming an exceedingly popular and reliable technology among scientists, researchers, and healthcare professionals. CRISPR, discovered in 2012, is a technology that is being utilized to detect and find cures to many chronic illnesses.




How does CRISPR work?

The idea of CRISPR was highly influenced by a simple defense mechanism that is found in microbes (microorganisms that cannot be visible by a human eye) like bacteria. These microbes cut small parts of the DNA of a pathogen (a disease-causing organism such as a virus) and store these parts away as segments called CRISPRs. In the event the same pathogen attempts to attack again, the stored DNA segments (which have been turned into short RNA segments) find the CAS enzyme (an enzyme is a catalyst that aids in the speeding up of many reactions) and cut up the pathogen’s DNA. Inside research laboratories, however, this method has been implemented in its own way to better enhance the goal of gene editing. The technology consists of two main components, those being a guide RNA and DNA-cutting enzyme, known as CAS-9, similar to the enzyme CAS. The guide RNA is then set up to mirror the gene that is to be edited (also known as the target) and afterwards partners up with the CAS-9 enzyme, guiding the enzyme to the target DNA. When the guide RNA is perfectly aligned with the target, the CAS-9 enzyme cuts the DNA.



Risks + Setbacks of CRISPR

While CRISPR is like the ‘genie’s lamp’ to the cure of all sorts of diseases out there, it has its respective drawbacks. According to an article published by Yale University, the biggest fear revolving around the technology of CRISPR is something called the genetic drive, which is, basically, the potentiality of manipulated genes incorporated into the genome (sitting in cells) being transferred into other organisms. Once the manipulated genes start circulating around into other organisms, it will become the ‘environment.’ If humans make an error in the manipulation of genes, we could end up passing traits that could potentially be harmful to the entire human population as a whole, down to future generations. Additionally, some researchers have come to realize that CRISPR does not work as well for cells that do not normally divide- such as liver, neuron, muscle, eye, and blood stem cells. In order for CRISPR to be performed, cells must edit DNA using a process called homology-directed repair (HDR) which is a process that can only be done on normally dividing cells. Other setbacks also persist, such as the possibility of death of gene-edited cells, resulting in the treatment procedure being done on patients multiple times. CRISPR researchers and scientists also have to use two different viruses to get the CRISPR component into the cells, which can potentially be more time consuming than using one virus.





While CRISPR is becoming an increasingly popular method, there are still some aspects of this technology that need to be studied a lot more thoroughly in order to avoid any sorts of complications or mishappenings, since our genes + DNA are very complex and delicate to deal with! Nevertheless, the future could look optimistic with the possibility of cures for diseases that are currently untreatable!



------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Thanks for reading the second article in our Technologies in Medicine series! We hope you learned about Crispr technology, as well the implications it can have for the future of healthcare.


If you enjoyed reading this article, check out the first article in our Cultures in Medicine Series by Sabrina Aezaz, linked here.


Until next time,

Harshita and the Writing Committee :)



Sources:

“Genome-Editing Technologies: Principles and Applications - PMC.” NCBI, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5131771/

Vidyasagar, Aparna. “What is CRISPR?” Live Science, 20 October 2021, https://www.livescience.com/58790-crispr-explained.html

“What are genome editing and CRISPR-Cas9?” MedlinePlus, 22 March 2022, https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/understanding/genomicresearch/genomeediting/

Kaiser, Jocelyn. “The gene editor CRISPR won't fully fix sick people anytime soon. Here's why.” 3 May 2016, https://www.science.org/content/article/gene-editor-crispr-won-t-fully-fix-sick-people-anytime-soon-here-s-why

“Is CRISPR Worth the Risk? | Yale Insights.” Yale Insights, 21 August 2018, https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/is-crispr-worth-the-risk


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