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World’s First CRISPR-Edited Babies

26 November 2018
Giulio Prisco

In Vitro Fertilization CRISPR

Chinese scientists at the Southern University of Science and Technology, in Shenzhen, have been recruiting couples in an effort to create the first gene-edited babies, MIT Technology Review reports. The scientists plan to eliminate a gene called CCR5, in hopes of rendering the offspring resistant to HIV, smallpox, and cholera.

A clinical trial document posted online this month describes a study in which CRISPR gene-editing technology is employed to modify human embryos before they are transferred into women’s uteruses.

“I feel a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example,” lead researcher He Jiankui told Associated Press. “Society will decide what to do next.”

Jiankui studied at Rice and Stanford universities before returning to China to open his university lab and two genetics companies. He claims one couple in the trial gave birth to twin girls, the world’s first genetically edited babies, this month.

Despite many negative reactions, Harvard University’s George Church defended attempting gene editing for HIV, Associated Press reports.

Longevity protein promotes muscle healing in old mice. Scientists at University of Pittsburgh have discovered that a protein found in healing muscles of younger mice helps older animals recover from injury. A study published in Nature Communications shows that, in young animals, the expression of the the so-called "longevity protein" Klotho soars after a muscle injury, whereas in old animals, it remains flat. By raising Klotho levels in old animals, or by mitigating downstream effects of Klotho deficiency, the researchers could restore muscle regeneration after injury.

Non-viral ocular gene therapy using laser and nanotechnology. Researchers at Polytechnique Montréal have developed a way to use old nanoparticles, which act like “nanolenses,” to concentrate the energy produced by the extremely short pulse of a femtosecond laser to create a nanoscale incision on the surface of the eye's retina cells. This technology, described in a research paper published in Nano Letters, preserves cell integrity and can be used to inject drugs or genes into specific areas of the eye, offering new hope to people with glaucoma, retinitis, or macular degeneration.

Tamoxifen used successfully to fight muscular paralysis and boost life expectancy in mice. Scientists at the University of Geneva and the University of Strasbourg have identified a molecule that not only greatly reduces the progression of the disease but also boosts life expectancy in laboratory mice by a factor of seven. The research is described in a study published in Nature Communications. Since the molecule - known as tamoxifen - is already used for breast cancer, the researchers hope to soon set up a clinical trial.

New method may halt the spread of glioblastoma cancer cells. Researchers at Virginia Tech may have found a solution to stopping the spread of glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer, with a new drug and cancer treatment method. A research paper published in Scientific Reports describes how the scientists tested a “game changer” drug called AMD3100, able to block the rapid movement of interstitial fluid, which is a cause of the spread of cancer cells and also an undesired side effect of common cancer therapies.

Engineered virus kills cancer cells. Scientists at the University of Oxford have equipped a virus that kills carcinoma cells with a protein so it can also target and kill adjacent cells that are tricked into shielding the cancer from the immune system. The method is described in a study published in Cancer Research. The scientists successfully tested the therapy on fresh human cancer samples collected from consenting patients, including solid prostate cancer tumors, which reflect the complex make-up of real tumors. They also tested the virus on samples of healthy human bone marrow and found it did not cause toxicity or inappropriate T cell activation. The next stage will be using clinical trials to test whether this is both a safe and effective way to treat the disease in people.

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