Gene-editing tool could soon protect against deadly tropical diseases, scientists say

(Fox News) A gene-editing tool made headlines earlier this year when scientists performed the first successful gene editing of human embryos and may soon play a role in helping to develop vaccines to protect people from possible malaria, or another deadly tropical disease, doctors told Fox News.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, said the tool is currently undergoing tests on animal models and could help improve the effectiveness of vaccine shots. The new variant of the Cellectra-19 genetic engineering kit was tested in the laboratory to see if it could alter the immune response of rodents, who have lost their natural immunity to the parasite, which has the potential to kill humans.

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In their study, the scientists used the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to modify the genome of the Cellectra-19 Mapping Patch, an essential part of the vaccine used against Plasmodium falciparum, which causes malaria. The modification shifted the shape of a gene expressed in part of the body, a switch that might change the way the immune system responds to the vaccine.

“It’s novel, but it’s not unique. We’ve known about this gene for a long time, that this is a cell surface protein,” Fauci said. “It’s not about for this new way to edit the genome, it’s really just that you can take this clinically, you can take this patient, go, ‘Oops, look at what I do on your genome.’ It gives you all the advantages that we had with CRISPR, you can have personalized medicine.”

A clinic at Mount Sinai announced earlier this month that it was using CRISPR technology to boost the effectiveness of a drug used to prevent malaria in children.

Before writing a routine prescription for patients, scientists with the Vanderbilt Institute of Molecular and Cell Therapy at Vanderbilt University want to determine whether they can improve the effectiveness of existing treatments by blocking the production of one type of protein.

The possible therapy, directed against a protein called Guard-like T-lymphocyte antigen-related gene (GLL-RNA), is aimed at improving a treatment to protect infants from malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Click here to read more on this story from the Tennessean.

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