Susanna M. Hamilton / Broad Communications
It is not easy to treat viral infections. Just ask anyone who has a bad cold or flu case.
But Massachusetts scientists believe they may have a new way of stopping viruses from infecting humans by using what is known as a pair of molecular scissors known as CRISPR.
This is a gene editing tool based on a molecule that occurs naturally in microorganisms.
CRISPR is available in many "flavors" that perform various functions within cells. The aroma Cas9 is widely used as a tool for editing DNA inside cells. The promise of medical therapies such as treatment for sickle cell disease has already been shown.
. What is different is that researchers at an anti-virus approach at the Greater Cambridge Institute use a form of CRISPR called Cas13 that targets specific regions of RNA rather than DNA.
RNA is a chemical cousin of DNA. Many viruses, including influenza and Zika, pack their genetic instructions into RNA instead of DNA.
When a virus infects a cell in our bodies, it abducts the cell's molecular machine to make copies of itself. These new viruses can continue to spread the infection through your body.
So for therapy, "we need to be able to resolve the virus at a fast enough rate to delay replication or stop replication from it happened, "says Cameron Mirwold, a postdoctoral fellow at the Broad Institute.
Finding the right target is key. which are necessary for the cell to survive, so it is important to find it
Myhrvold says that RNA viruses are especially difficult to control because they look a little like figures: they tend to change their genetic sequences when you try This is one of the reasons that people need a new flu vaccine every year.
Understanding how the virus changes in response to Cas13 treatment should be informative.
"This could potentially teach us which parts of the virus are particularly important for its function," says Catherine Frie, PhD student at the Broad Institute. And this, in turn, will show the best targeting sites for the virus to disable it.
So far, Freyer and Mirwold say they have shown only their antiviral agents for cell therapy.
But Pardis Sabeti, the head of the laboratory where they work, is rough on the use of the CRISPR Cas13 system to treat viral infections in humans.
"There is still a bunch of stuff we want to develop, but we feel pretty confident that it will work as therapy if it can be delivered the right way," says Sabeti.
By delivery, it means put the CRISPR Cas13 tool in the correct cells inside an infected patient.
Because CRSIPR Cas13 targets RNA specifically, it will only be useful for RNA-caused diseases.
Janice Chen says researchers are finding different CRISPRs Chen is a Principal Investigator at Mammoth Biosciences, a hopeful company
"Having a wider range of CRISPR tools is really important to understand the specific need for an application," says Chen.  Progress in building this set of tools have been flowing pretty fast, and it has only been six years since scientists first realized how powerful CRISPR can be.