Known as Prime Editing, the scientists developed this technique as a more accurate way to edit Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). In a paper published in Nature, the authors claim prime editing has the potential to correct up to 89% of disease-causing genetic variations. They also claim prime editing is more powerful, precise, and flexible than CRISPR.
The research paper describes prime editing as a “versatile and precise genome editing method that directly writes new genetic information into a specified DNA site using a catalytically impaired Cas9endonuclease fused to an engineered reverse transcriptase, programmed with a prime editing guide RNA (pegRNA) that both specifies the target site and encodes the desired edit.”
And a Harvard Gazette article states, “Prime editing differs from previous genome-editing systems in that it uses RNA to direct the insertion of new DNA sequences in human cells.”
Assuming further research and clinical studies confirm the
viability of this technology, clinical laboratories would have a new diagnostic
service line that could become a significant proportion of a lab’s specimen
volume and test mix.
In that e-briefing we wrote that Liu “has led a team of scientists in the development of a gene-editing protein delivery system that uses cationic lipids and works on animal and human cells. The new delivery method is as effective as protein delivery via DNA and has significantly higher specificity. If developed, this technology could open the door to routine use of genome analysis, worked up by the clinical laboratory, as one element in therapeutic decision-making.”
Now, Liu has taken that development even further.
Cell Division Not Necessary
CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. It is considered the most advanced gene editing technology available. However, it has one drawback not found in Prime Editing—CRISPR relies on a cell’s ability to divide to generate desired alterations in DNA—prime editing does not.
This means prime editing could be used to repair genetic mutations in cells that do not always divide, such as cells in the human nervous system. Another advantage of prime editing is that it does not cut both strands of the DNA double helix. This lowers the risk of making unintended, potentially dangerous changes to a patient’s DNA.
The researchers claim prime editing can eradicate long lengths of disease-causing DNA and insert curative DNA to repair dangerous mutations. These feats, they say, can be accomplished without triggering genome responses introduced by other forms of CRISPR that may be potentially harmful.
“Prime editors are more like word processors capable of
searching for targeted DNA sequences and precisely replacing them with edited
DNA strands,” Liu told NPR.
The scientists involved in the study have used prime editing to perform over 175 edits in human cells. In the test lab, they have succeeded in repairing genetic mutations that cause both Sickle Cell Anemia (SCA) and Tay-Sachs disease, NPR reported.
“Prime editing is really a step—and potentially a significant step—towards this long-term aspiration of the field in which we are trying to be able to make just about any kind of DNA change that anyone wants at just about any site in the human genome,” Liu told News Medical.
Additional Research Required, but Results are Promising
Prime editing is very new and warrants further
investigation. The researchers plan to continue their work on the technology by
performing additional testing and exploring delivery mechanisms that could lead
to human therapeutic applications.
“Prime editing should be tested and optimized in as many cell types as researchers are interested in editing. Our initial study showed prime editing in four human cancer cell lines, as well as in post-mitotic primary mouse cortical neurons,” Liu told STAT. “The efficiency of prime editing varied quite a bit across these cell types, so illuminating the cell-type and cell-state determinants of prime editing outcomes is one focus of our current efforts.”
Although further research and clinical studies are needed to
confirm the viability of prime editing, clinical laboratories could benefit
from this technology. It’s worth watching.
Three innovative technologies utilizing CRISPR-Cas13, Cas12a, and Cas9 demonstrate how CRISPR might be used for more than gene editing, while highlighting potential to develop new diagnostics for both the medical laboratory and point-of-care (POC) testing markets
Now, scientists at three universities are investigating ways to expand CRISPR’s use. They are using CRISPR to develop new diagnostic tests, or to enhance the sensitivity of existing DNA tests.
One such advancement improves the sensitivity of SHERLOCK (Specific High Sensitivity Reporter unLOCKing), a CRISPR-based diagnostic tool developed by a team at MIT. The new development harnesses the DNA slicing traits of CRISPR to adapt it as a multifunctional tool capable of acting as a biosensor. This has resulted in a paper-strip test, much like a pregnancy test, that can that can “display test results for a single genetic signature,” according to MIT News.
Such a medical laboratory test would be highly useful during pandemics and in rural environments that lack critical resources, such as electricity and clean water.
One Hundred Times More Sensitive Medical Laboratory Tests!
MIT News highlighted the high specificity and ease-of-use of their system in detecting Zika and Dengue viruses simultaneously. However, researchers stated that the system can target any genetic sequence. “With the original SHERLOCK, we were detecting a single molecule in a microliter, but now we can achieve 100-fold greater sensitivity … That’s especially important for applications like detecting cell-free tumor DNA in blood samples, where the concentration of your target might be extremely low,” noted Abudayyeh.
“The [CRISPR] technology demonstrates potential for many healthcare applications, including diagnosing infections in patients and detecting mutations that confer drug resistance or cause cancer,” stated senior authorFeng Zhang, PhD. Zhang, shown above in the MIT lab named after him, is a Core Institute Member of the Broad Institute, Associate Professor in the departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Biological Engineering at MIT, and a pioneer in the development of CRISPR gene-editing tools. (Photo copyright: MIT.)
They published the results of their development of CRISPR-mediated analog multi-event recording apparatus (CAMERA) systems, in Science. The story was also covered by STAT.
“The order of stimuli can be recorded through an overlapping guide RNA design and memories can be erased and re-recorded over multiple cycles,” the researchers noted. “CAMERA systems serve as ‘cell data recorders’ that write a history of endogenous or exogenous signaling events into permanent DNA sequence modifications in living cells.”
This creates a system much like the “black box” recorders in aircraft. However, using Cas9, data is recorded at the cellular level. “There are a lot of questions in cell biology where you’d like to know a cell’s history,” Liu told STAT.
While researchers acknowledge that any medical applications are in the far future, the technology holds the potential to capture and replay activity on the cellular level—a potentially powerful tool for oncologists, pathologists, and other medical specialists.
Using CRISPR to Detect Viruses and Infectious Diseases
Despite the current focus on HPVs, the researchers told Gizmodo they believe the same methods could identify other viral or bacterial infections, detect cancer biomarkers, and uncover chromosomal abnormalities.
Future Impact on Clinical Laboratories of CRISPR-based Diagnostics
Each of these new methods highlights the abilities of CRISPR both as a data generation tool and a biosensor. While still in the research phases, they offer yet another possibility of improving efficiency, targeting specific diseases and pathogens, and creating new assays and diagnostics to expand medical laboratory testing menus and power the precision medicine treatments of the future.
As CRISPR-based diagnostics mature, medical laboratory directors might find that new capabilities and assays featuring these technologies offer new avenues for remaining competitive and maintaining margins.
However, as SHERLOCK demonstrates, it also highlights the push for tests that produce results with high-specificity, but which do not require specialized medical laboratory training and expensive hardware to read. Similar approaches could power the next generation of POC tests, which certainly would affect the volume, and therefore the revenue, of independent clinical laboratories and hospital/health system core laboratories.