It’s like someone has pressed fast-forward on the gene-editing field: A simple tool that scientists can wield to snip and edit DNA is speeding the pace of advancements that could lead to treating and preventing diseases.
Findings are now coming quickly, as researchers can publish the results of their work that’s made use of the tool, called CRISPR-Cas9.
The tool, often called CRISPR for short, was first shown to be able to snip DNA in 2011. It consists of a protein and a cousin of DNA, called RNA. Scientists can use it to cut DNA strands at very precise locations, enabling them to remove mutated parts of genes from a strand of genetic material.
In the past year alone, dozens of scientific papers from researchers around the world have detailed the results of studies — some promising, some critical — that used CRISPR to snip out and replace unwanted DNA to develop treatments for cancer, HIV, blindness, chronic pain, muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease, to name a few.
“The pace of basic research discoveries has exploded, thanks to CRISPR,” said biochemist and CRISPR expert Sam Sternberg, the group leader of technology development at at Berkeley, California-based Caribou Biosciences Inc., which is developing CRISPR-based solutions for medicine, agriculture, and biological research.