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Twelve years of CRISPR


On December 8th, 2023, the FDA announced it approved Casgevy to treat sickle cell disease (SCD), and the excitement is palpable.

 

Casgevy is the first FDA-approved therapy utilizing CRISPR/Cas9, a type of genome editing technology.

Illustration of hands cutting a strand of DNA and inserting a new section into the strand.

As well as being a life-changing announcement for the 100,000+ people in the US dealing with SCD, this announcement is also exciting for the researchers working on CRISPR treatments for a myriad of other issues. Other health conditions are being explored for CRISPR treatments include Alzheimer's disease, a variety of cancers including Leukemia and cervical cancers caused by HPV, eye diseases that cause blindness like Retinitis Pigmentosa, HIV, and Diabetes.

 

But CRISPR gene editing isn't just being used in healthcare. CRISPR is making algae produce more lipids for biodiesel and making yeasts that produce ethanol more tolerant to harsher environments. It's being explored to stave off citrus greening disease in our oranges and to keep Cacao plants (from which we get chocolate!) from going extinct, among other things. It could remove common allergens from foods like eggs and gluten, make our crops resistant to the effects of climate change, ensure mosquito offspring can't carry malaria, stop (genetically-modified) farmed salmon from breeding if it escapes it's facility, or perhaps, bring back animals from extinction… cue the Jurassic Park theme song.

 

All this in just 12 years since the first publication announcing CRISPR could be used as a gene editing tool. How quickly will this technology progress? What other areas of our lives will it touch? What are the larger ethical considerations here? While we would consider gene editing near the top of the S-curve now, what other technologies could this open up? If biotech and synthbio are of interest to your organization, please reach out.

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