Can light-activated CRISPR lead to new treatments for cancer, diabetes?

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Image: Yujun Song/Nanjing University

Engineers are making their mark on biotech’s hottest commodity. Chinese scientists [April 3] reported that they can control the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 with light.

Physically delivering CRISPR-Cas9 into a cell typically requires hitching the complex to a virus. … The strategy works, but using viruses as a delivery method can cause problems, such as provoking cancer or an immune response.

Researchers have proposed several alternative delivery materials, including gold nanoparticles, black phosphorus, metal-organic frameworks, graphene oxide, and various nanomaterials. These methods avoid some of the pitfalls of viruses, but still don’t give scientists control over the timing of gene editing.

That’s where light comes in. The authors of the new report anchored CRISPR-Cas9 to light-converting nanoparticles using a light-sensitive chemical compound. Then, by exposing the particles to light, the scientists triggered the release of the CRISPR-Cas9 machinery from the nanoparticles, delivering them to cells on demand.

Related article:  Meet 5 RNA 'movers and shakers' including one that may protect against Alzheimer’s

The system is smart not only because the timing of the release of CRISPR-Cas9 can be controlled, but also because it can be delivered fairly deep into the body, and controlled remotely.

The researchers hope to apply the tool not only to cancer, but also Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, says [Yujun Song, an author of the paper.]

Read full, original post: Scientists Control CRISPR With Light

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