CRISPR gene editing could soon make us immune to influenza, HIV infection

Scientists have created artificial, longer-lasting antibodies by editing the DNA of immune cells.

With the numerous different strains of infectious bacteria and viruses around, researchers are hard-pressed to develop vaccinations for common and deadly illnesses.

But soon, thanks to CRISPR gene editing technology, it will soon be possible to give people immunity to preventable infections like the flu and HIV.

Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington have developed a new way to create artificial, longer-lasting antibodies by editing the DNA of "B cells" — the white blood cells in the immune system that create and release antibodies.

 CRISPR gene editing could soon make us immune to influenza, HIV infection

The Human Immunovirus (HIV) that causes AIDS (in yellow) infecting a T-cell (blue and green) under a microscope. Image: CNRI

This addresses an important challenge that healthcare professionals face using vaccinations: a short period of effectiveness, or shelf-life. Antibiotics are also fragile in the body and can be easily broken down by the body in weeks, which requires booster shots every few years till adulthood.

Researchers chose the deadly respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) for an initial trial in mice. All 15 mice had an average of 82 days of protection from the virus, which is notorious for causing lung infections in children and adults alike.

Editing B-cell DNA is an emerging trend in research and could offer a lot of potential for prevention and cure in medicine, a New Scientist report points out.

Representational image.

Representational image.

Many different research groups are working on finding promising gene-editing tools to benefit health and begin clinical trials in people.

However, with all the recent controversy surrounding CRISPR from Chinese researcher He Jiankui's gene edited human baby trials, it has become more important than ever before to prove the technique's safety first.

That step alone could take a number of years since there aren't any long-term studies for treatments involving gene-editing in humans. But if it ever does become a treatment in the near future, “thousands of hospital visits, disabilities, and deaths could be prevented each year,” the study reads.

The study and its results were pre-published earlier this month in bioRxiv.

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