New vistas are constantly opening with the advent of technology in the world of medicine! The recent innovation in biomedicine is CRISPR-Cas9 mechanism, a relatively new gene-editing technique that may be a potential cure for sickle cell disorder and other genetic diseases.
CRISPR-Cas9 (abb.Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats/CRISPR associated protein-9) was co-invented by Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna, a biochemist at University of California, Berkeley and Prof Emmanuelle M. Charpentier, Director of Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin in 2012.
The technology can be used to alter genetic blueprint of plants and animals and modify DNA sequences in stem cells. Unlike earlier gene-editing techniques like viral gene editing, gene replacement, and others, which results may be slower to obtain, CRISPR promises to yield results more rapidly. The technology now being used on crops like creating pink tomatoes and insect-resistant crop varieties are also in use for laboratory research in animals like mice and monkeys.
At present, scientists are conducting a study in which CRISPR is used to introduce haemoglobin F (HbF) a natural protein present at birth into the blood stem cells of persons living with sickle cell disorder. Though, the result of this current research does not replace the defective gene it will alleviate symptoms of the condition as HbF is a potent oxygen carrier.
CRISPR is far from perfect as many scientists believe that the knowledge of technology in relation to human genetics is still increasing. There are also fears of rising ethical issues such as the proliferation of ‘designer babies’. Recently, He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist who claimed to have used the CRISPR technology to modify the genes of twin girls for resistance against Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the pathogen for AIDS was severely buffeted by the international community.
Expectations are high that CRISPR, just over 6 years old, will prove to be a wonderful innovation in the world of genetics.