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RNA-Targeting CRISPR Might Help Treat Huntington’s, Other Diseases

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CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that made headlines earlier this year because of its provocative and controversial potential, has become a hot point of research as scientists continue to study its applications, reports Tech Times.

A new breakthrough has revealed that CRISPR formed from mouth bacterium has the ability to break RNA, the part of cells that helps transform genes into usable proteins. If this “cutting” technique works successfully, it could open doors on how better to modify proteins in cells, and maybe even eliminate cancer cells altogether. It could also be useful someday in treating Huntington’s and heart diseases.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed the RNA version of CRISPR, using a certain enzyme known as C2c2. This enzyme helps keep bacteria protected against other invading microbes like viruses.

Dr. Feng Zhang and his team at MIT’s Broad Institute described the process by which they were able to engineer the C2c2 enzyme in order to specifically find and break down RNA sequences in their study, published in the journal Science.

RNA serves as the template to which the body’s genetic codes from a person’s DNA are stored and transferred to the body’s protein makers.

By manipulating RNA, researchers could influence gene activity as well as protein production in the body, allowing them to turn this process up, down, on or off without altering any genetic codes stored in the RNA.

This new technique is important, as it allows scientists better understand the various biological pathways in the human body, which they can then use to make more effective treatments for diseases.

Zhang says, “C2c2 opens the door to an entirely new frontier of powerful CRISPR tools. There are an immense number of possibilities for C2c2 and we are excited to develop it into a platform for life science research and medicine.”

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