Reprogrammed Genes with CRISPR May Help Fight COVID-19

Sandia National Lab scientists are working hard to see if this system could work against COVID-19.
Fabienne Lang

What if we could reprogram our genes to block out COVID-19? This is what scientists at Sandia National Lab are trying to find out by using CRISPR, the gene editing tool. 

The researchers are genetically engineering antiviral countermeasures in order to curb the coronavirus, as well as fight off potential future outbreaks of similar viral strains. 


Mitigating the issue 

Biochemist Joe Schoeniger who is working on the CRISPR project, explained to Nextgov "There's huge open questions about mitigating this thing as it goes on as a phenomenon all around the world. And that's a reason why we need to vigorously pursue lots of avenues."

By using CRISPR technologies, scientists can alter the acids that make up cells, manipulating genes or controlling gene expression to fight viruses as well as helping bodies withstand infections. 

The team at Sandia National Lab has been studying emerging infectious diseases for years, which include the Ebola and the Nipah viruses. A virologist working on the study, Oscar Negrete, has noted a number of commonalities between these viruses and the coronavirus. "And that is the key sticking point that we've been thinking about for a long time—it’s how do we create rapid countermeasures that could basically target a family of viruses instead of just one," he said.

The team has to take into account three overall components. The first is exploring new technologies like CRISPR as a viral countermeasure that targets a number of viruses, as opposed to a single one. The second is how to safely use it in humans. And thirdly, technical components have to be taken into account, such as the development of delivery methods. 

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The team has to move the delivery efficacy to the lungs, to see whether they need to address a new host protein.

Further testing and studies still need to be carried out, but if this works, it would hugely help medical workers with the current coronavirus outbreak, but also for any future pandemic or outbreak that occurs. 

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