Coronavirus: Gene editing could be used to prevent future pandemics

Coronavirus vaccine distribution is ‘chaos’ says professor

Across the planet, more than 1.5 million people have died as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the end is seemingly insight with vaccines ready to be rolled out, another pandemic, either from another coronavirus or another disease, another global spread of disease is inevitable.

Covid-19 has not only caused a devastating loss of life but has also caused economies to crumble and the world to come to a standstill.

Prevention, in any case, is better than the cure, and scientists are now toying with the idea of using gene editing to protect future generations from future pandemics.

One way of editing genes would be using the CRISPR, or CRISPR-Cas9, which sees scientists edit a specific part of the genome by altering DNA.

This could include altering the DNA of an embryo to boost their T-cells – the cells which are responsible for fighting disease and infection.

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Another way could see scientists disable coronaviruses by “scrambling” the genetic code.

Yusef Paolo Rabiah, a PhD candidate at the University College London Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy, said that the technique is controversial, however, as scientists are unsure of the lasting effects of gene editing before a person is born.

Mr Rabiah wrote on The Conversation: “f you remove a gene that causes a certain disease in an embryo, not only will the baby be free of the disease when born – so will its descendants.

“The technique is, however, controversial – we can’t be sure how a child with an altered genome will develop over a lifetime.

“But with the Covid-19 pandemic showing just how vulnerable human beings are to disease, is it time to consider moving ahead with it more quickly?”

He continued: “Scientists are now discussing genome editing in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“For example, one could use CRISPR to disable coronaviruses by scrambling their genetic code.

“But we could also edit people’s genes to make them more resistant to infection – for example by targeting ‘T cells’, which are central in the body’s immune response.

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“There are already CRISPR clinical trials underway that look to genome edit T cells in cancer patients to improve anti-tumour immunity (T cells attacking the tumour).

“This type of gene editing differs to germline editing as it occurs in non-reproductive cells, meaning genetic changes are not heritable.

“In the long term, however, it may be more effective to improve T-cell responses using germline editing.”

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