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Gene Editing-Technique Can Help Identify CRISPR Mistakes

2 July 2017, 9:07 am EDT By Athena Chan Tech Times
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CRISPR in itself is already a revolutionary tool in gene-editing that allows for the development of cures for deadly diseases such as cancer and HIV. Now, a team of scientists took CRISPR one step further by developing a new technique that would make CRISPR much safer and more accurate.

CRISPR And CHAMP

CRISPR is already currently in use by scientists to manipulate or edit the genetic code of various organisms. The idea behind CRISPR is that this tool will be able to edit or fix a recurring genetic error that causes serious and deadly illnesses such as cancer and Huntington's disease. By having the capability to remove the faulty genes that cause the disease, CRISPR is thereby essentially also able to remove the sickness directly from its roots.

Still, manipulating DNA is exactly as complicated as you may think, and cannot just be undone when you make a mistake. No matter how ingenious this tool is, there are still risks of making mistakes that could lead to catastrophic results.

Now, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) have developed a method of making sure that these mistakes will not happen. Using already existing laboratory equipment and technology, the scientists as UT Austin developed a Chip Hybridized Affinity Mapping Platform (CHAMP) which isn't just capable of practically predicting which genomes and DNA segments CRISPR will interact with, but also allows for individually tailored gene therapies.

"You and I differ in about 1 million spots in our genetic code,"' said Ilya Finkelstein, the project's principal investigator and assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at UT Austin. "Because of this genetic diversity, human gene editing will always be a custom-tailored therapy."

Correcting CRISPR's Autocorrect

Scientists explained the process in a very relatable way. In itself, our DNA sequence is much like a document with recurring typos, and CRISPR is supposed to be the autocorrect feature introduced to fix the errors.

However, in a way, CRISPR also works as a sort of autocorrect feature in a way that it does not pay attention to certain letters in the sequence. This is much like when the autocorrect feature on smartphones changes an intentionally typed word into something different, thereby completely changing the text's meaning.

Without its own autocorrect, CRISPR could create new problems by mistakenly editing a gene that was healthy or "correct" to begin with. For instance, the wrong gene manipulation could turn originally healthy cells into cancerous cells.

Essentially, CHAMP was made to ensure that CRISPR will target the right "wrong genes," instead of mistakenly correcting right ones. Together with CHAMP, CRISPR can become an even more useful, safe, accurate, and personalized.

The research results appear in the journal Cell.

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