Better than RNAi? Emory team modifies CRISPR-Cas9 tech for viral infections

Hepatitis C virus--Courtesy of Emory University

Investigators around the world have been quick to adapt CRISPR-Cas9 technology for a wide number of potential applications in therapeutic development. At Emory University, the focus has been on modifying the DNA-splicing tech that's been the focus so far so that it can be used to "put a clamp" on RNA in a way that could have an impact on viral infections like hepatitis C.

And they're intent on determining if this new approach could be more effective than RNA interference research.

"We can envision using Cas9-based technology to prevent viral infections in transgenic animals and plants, for example," says co-senior author David Weiss, an assistant professor of medicine (infectious disease) at Emory Vaccine Center and Emory University School of Medicine. "This is a proof of principle that we can re-engineer Cas9 to target RNA in human or other mammalian cells. Here, we're targeting a viral RNA, for which there is no corresponding DNA in the cells."

RNA interference is already being used for deadly viral infections like Ebola. But the investigators say that viruses can develop mechanisms to thwart RNAi.

"Since Cas9 is a bacterial protein and eukaryotic viruses have likely not encountered it, they would not have ways to evade Cas9," Weiss says. "Thus, Cas9 could be effective in inhibiting viruses when the RNAi system cannot."

The results were published on Monday, April 27, 2015, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

- here's the release
- read the research article

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