What’s to come for CRISPR in 2017?
What’s to come for CRISPR in 2017?
In the short time since its discovery, CRISPR has enabled tremendous scientific advances that have caught headlines and spotlight around the world. Today we’re looking to the future to see where CRISPR might go in 2017. Like every other year, it’ll shock and stun us with innovative and cutting-edge advances quicker than we ever thought possible, so this is just a starting point.
In 2017 we believe CRISPR…
…will give us the first human trial data.
In November 2016 a Chinese research group made history when it began the first human trials using CRISPR therapy. The trial focuses on safety and involves ten patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer. We should start to see the first data from this small trial later in the year – currently, we’ve had no news, and when we’re looking at a first-in-man safety study, that’s good news.
Closer to home we have the first CRISPR human trials starting up in the US this year; we took a look at the First Test of CRISPR Editing in Humans Gets Approval by the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC).
…will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
We’re all aware of the world’s dependence on petrochemicals. It’s evident that we cannot continue to depend on this method of hydrocarbon production to fuel our lives – whether that’s because climate change is negatively impacting our planet or simply because these resources are finite. This year we hope to see CRISPR begin to improve things. Researchers at the University of California Riverside have been exploring how to use CRISPR to engineer yeast to convert sugars into hydrocarbons. Other researchers have already started looking at how CRISPR-engineering could manipulate yeast to make cleaner plastics; making nylon and polyurethanes instead of making them using benzene which is originally found in petrochemicals.
…will show us ways to defeat HIV potentially.
Last year we saw that HIV could quickly develop mutations that enable it to resist attack by CRISPR’s DNA-shearing enzymes. Researchers involved in that study described the discovery as “a minor setback that does not preclude the idea altogether.” In a more recent study, researchers investigated whether human genes required for HIV replication in T cells, but not essential to human life, could be knocked out. Five genes were identified, and these are now the attention of scientists hoping to develop therapies to prevent infection altogether.
…will cure people of sickle cell anemia.
Towards the end of 2016 we saw a flurry of activity around sickle cell anemia; a severe hereditary form of anemia caused by mutated hemoglobin that distorts the shape of red blood cells. CRISPR has been used to correct the faulty gene in the stem cells of diseased patients, allowing for red blood cells to make functioning hemoglobin again. These stem cells were transplanted into mice and researchers found them thriving in their bone marrow months later. Providing the human trial data we discussed earlier doesn’t throw up any important safety issues, this could be the year that we find a cure for sickle cell anemia.
…researchers will develop standardized genome editing protocols.
We’re predicting that 2017 will be the year that synthetic sgRNA, used in the ribonucleoprotein (RNP) format, will become the gold standard for genome editing. Synthetic guides are manufactured in a highly reproducible manner and thus yield the greatest consistency between experimental replicates; RNPs exist transiently inside cells and provide the highest possible editing efficiencies with the fewest off-target effects.
Whether CRISPR manages to meet the specific expectations we’ve set out here, it’s sure to continue to exceed them in areas of science that we haven’t even thought of yet. One thing’s for sure; CRISPR has the potential to transform the way we do science, and 2017 will undoubtedly be another big year. Keep an eye on the blog – we’ll be sure to keep you updated with the world of CRISPR over the year ahead.