With treatments for COVID still elusive, CRISPR offers promise in preliminary tests

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Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Scientists have harnessed CRISPR gene-editing technology to block the replication of the novel coronavirus in human cells — an approach that could one day serve as a new treatment for COVID-19.

The researchers designed CRISPR-Cas13b to target specific sites on the RNA of SARS-CoV-2; once the enzyme binds to the RNA, it destroys the part of the virus needed to replicate, according to a statement from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Victoria, Australia, which collaborated on the research. 

“Once the virus is recognized, the CRISPR enzyme is activated and chops up the virus,” study lead author Dr. Sharon Lewin, of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne, told AFP.

The researchers also found that their method worked even when new mutations were introduced into the SARS-CoV-2 genome, including those seen in the alpha coronavirus variant, first discovered in the United Kingdom.

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An ideal treatment would be an antiviral drug that patients take shortly after being diagnosed with COVID-19. “This approach — test and treat —  would only be feasible if we have a cheap, oral and non-toxic antiviral. That’s what we hope to achieve one day with this gene scissors approach,” Lewin told AFP.

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