‘Designing’ cats to be less allergenic? Gene editing provides a solution

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Credit: Nils Jacobi/Getty Images
Credit: Nils Jacobi/Getty Images

Solutions for people who want to be around cats despite allergies are labor-intensive, of questionable value, and sometimes defy common sense. How many emergency department trips would ensue if we all tried to give our cats frequent baths?

This predicament has triggered the imagination of researchers, who see a lucrative market for better solutions in a country that has more than 50 million cats in more than 20 million homes. Some scientists are now taking a different approach to human pet allergies. Rather than trying to change allergic humans or their environment, they’re trying to change cats.

[The protein that causes allergies,] Fel d 1, is produced in salivary, skin and anal glands of cats and is found in their tears. 

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[Researcher Nicole] Brackett, at Indoor Biotechnologies, achieved 55% efficiency in knocking out Fel d 1 in a cat cell line. That is a good rate, she and [Indoor CEO Martin] Chapman said. “Cat cells are notoriously difficult to work with,” Brackett said.

The next step will be to see whether they can reduce the allergen in cat salivary glands. Then will come the really hard part: figuring how to deliver the genetic treatment to embryos or adult cats. 

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