In a recent study published in the Journal Of Experimental Medicine, researchers in China successfully used CRISPR Gene-Editing technology to restore sight to mice with retinitis pigmentosa.
That’s a lot of vocabulary all at once, so let’s establish some definitions first and foremost. According to the National Eye Institute, retinitis pigmentosa is a “genetic disease that people [and animals] are born with…that [affects] the retina (the light-sensitive layer of tissue in the back of the eye)”. As for CRISPR Gene-Editing technology, YG Topics defines it as, “a unique technology that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome by removing, adding or altering sections of the DNA sequence”.
Most inherent forms of blindness and loss-of-vision stem from genetic mutations, and thus retinitis pigmentosa is one of many forms of genetically caused blindness. However, through CRISPR technology, the researchers in the study successfully edited the DNA of mice who had the mutation to eliminate retinitis pigmentosa and give them the ability to see. The results of the study are very promising, as not only does retinitis pigmentosa affect mice, but human beings. Thus, there is evidence that CRISPR could be used to cure blindness among everyday people. Kai Yao, a professor from the Wuhan University of Science and Technology who contributed to the study said, “The ability to edit the genome of neural retinal cells, particularly unhealthy or dying photoreceptors, would provide much more convincing evidence for the potential applications of these genome-editing tools in treating diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa”.
In AP Biology, we discussed how DNA factors into the traits of a living being. DNA is made up of 3 base codons that form up to 20 different amino acids. These amino acids code for specific proteins. Through a process of DNA transcription and translation, the DNA uses various forms of RNA to code for proteins, which help tell the cell what to do. Thus, the way the cell acts is largely determined by its DNA. Essentially, DNA codes certain traits through various amino acid sequences. Mutations and alternations to amino acid sequences cause different traits, such as red hair, blue eyes, or blindness.
Thus, successfully altering the DNA of mice has huge implications for the human race. CRISPR could potentially be used to edit the DNA of humans, and thus help limit and prevent certain genetic conditions. Many diseases are based on genetic mutations, and if CRISPR Gene Editing technology is proven successful, we could potentially eliminate genetic diseases in a few decades. While “much work still needs to be done to establish both the safety and efficacy” of CRISPR technology, some groundbreaking scientific treatments could be coming sooner than you think (Neuroscience News).