Xenotransplantation: time to go deeper

Photo credit: Joe Carrotta

And so it happened. “In a first, surgeons attached a pig kidney to a human, and it worked,” as the New York Times puts it. Data are scarce, however, and all the info we have is from the general media. The kidney came from a GalSafe pig, which is the only one FDA approved so far. But scientists from several companies have already developed pigs much more engineered than that (with three or four porcine genes knocked-out instead of one, and human gene additions). To get an updated picture, we highly recommend this article published in Nature Biotechnology last April.

Meet the first CRISPR patients in Italy

Emanuele and Erika Guarini are brother and sister. They were treated for thalassemia respectively in November 2020 and August 2021 by the team of Franco Locatelli at Bambin Gesù hospital in Rome. Before the CRISPR-based treatment, they needed a blood transfusion every 15-20 days (source La Repubblica).

CRISPR patients, 3 reasons for hope

Patrick Doherty, Carlene Knight, and Victoria Gray (credit NPR)

There is one more hopeful story from NPR. It involves a woman with a congenital eye disorder who volunteered to have her retina edited. A few months ago, it was a man suffering from a rare liver disease. The first of all, as you probably know, was a woman struggling with sickle cell disease. Don’t miss their CRISPR stories!

WHO’s roadmap on genome editing

A multi-disciplinary panel of 18 experts from all over the world, a two years long consultation, over 150 pages. The much-awaited report of the World Health Organization on human genome editing was delivered on July 12 and is divided into three parts: A framework for governance, Recommendations, and Position Paper. While not legally binding, it is expected to influence both governments and the scientific community, by offering a roadmap based on widely shared ethical principles and usable policy tools.

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CRISPR landmark trial: who said what?

Credit Intellia Therapeutics

Here you can read a selection of notable comments about the landmark paper on in vivo genome-editing published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 26 June. The trial, conducted in the UK and New Zealand, produced the first-ever clinical data supporting the safety and efficacy of intravenous infusion of a single-dose CRISPR treatment. The treatment, developed by two US-based companies (Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals) targets a rare and fatal condition called transthyretin amyloidosis.

Jennifer Doudna (CRISPR co-inventor and co-founder of Intellia): “It’s a critical first step in being able to inactivate, repair, or replace any gene that causes disease, anywhere in the body” (source Science).

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Toward an NIH-validated CRISPR toolkit

The Somatic Cell Genome Editing (SCGE) Consortium is working to accelerate the development of better methods of editing. Seventy-two principal investigators from 38 institutions are pursuing 45 distinct but well-integrated projects, funded by the US National Institutes of Health with US$190 million over 6 years. A perspective published in Nature details their plans:

“New genome editors, delivery technologies and methods for tracking edited cells in vivo, as well as newly developed animal models and human biological systems, will be assembled—along with validated datasets—into an SCGE Toolkit, which will be disseminated widely to the biomedical research community. We visualize this toolkit—and the knowledge generated by its applications—as a means to accelerate the clinical development of new therapies for a wide range of conditions”.

CRISPR antivirals, where are we now?

CRISPR-based diagnostic tests for Sars-Cov2 are coming, as you probably know. But what about CRISPR-based antiviral therapy? It would seem a natural outcome for a technology inspired by the way many bacteria fight their viruses. Indeed this kind of research is being pursued in a handful of labs, using a CRISPR enzyme targeting RNA instead of DNA.

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CRISPR rising stars

Andrew Anzalone (Broad Institute), Jennifer Hamilton (Berkeley) and Cameron Myhrvold (Princeton)

December is time for rankings and forecasts. Let’s start with STAT News celebrating young talents who could become the next generation of scientific superstars. Three CRISPR researchers appear among STAT wunderkinds. As a postdoc at the Broad Institute, Andrew Anzalone helped make a key advance by developing prime editing, where the same RNA molecule specifies the target and the desired edit. Jennifer Hamilton, from Berkeley, works on solving one of the major hurdles of CRISPR-based therapies: delivering the genome editor to the desired cells. Cameron Myhrvold, has since worked at the Broad Institute on developing CRISPR-based diagnostics such as CARMEN and is about to start his own lab at Princeton.

Breaking or fixing? A tale of two approaches for hemoglobinopathies

Painting by Hertz Nazaire

Covid19 is affecting everyone, but it has hit the sickle cell (SCD) community particularly hard. According to STAT News the pandemic has temporarily stopped clinical trials and the introduction of new drugs, besides directly impacting SCD patients who are at high risk for severe complications from Sars-Cov2 infection and may need hospital assistance for SCD pain crises.

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Knocking out cholesterol

Consider this scenario, depicted in Nature a few years ago. “It’s 2037, and a middle-aged person can walk into a health centre to get a vaccination against cardiovascular disease. The injection targets cells in the liver, tweaking a gene that is involved in regulating cholesterol in the blood. The simple procedure trims cholesterol levels and dramatically reduces the person’s risk of a heart attack”.

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