Whitehead team adapts CRISPR-Cas9 tech to target killer fungal infections

Investigators at the Whitehead Institute have adapted promising new CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology to go to work finding new therapeutic approaches to fighting fungal infections.

Scientists have already been busy using the gene editing technology to develop a variety of new therapies, but Cambridge, MA-based Whitehead tackled a shortcoming in CRISPR-Cas9: It was clumsy at targeting the twin genes at work in fungal infections triggered by Candida albicans. The organism is commonly found on the skin and in the gut and is associated with a range of common and fairly easily treated infections, but immunocompromised patients can experience serious and potentially lethal infections from C. albicans.

Gerald Fink

The adapted CRISPR-Cas9 tech is able to simultaneously edit both copies of a gene found in most diploid organisms, according to the scientists at the prestigious Whitehead. Valmik Vyas, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Whitehead Founding Member Gerald Fink, says he's now able to start running through all 6,000 genes found in the pathogen to find exactly the right therapeutic targets. The work was published in Science Advances.

"The ability to engineer Candida albicans with CRISPR technology has changed the playing field," says Fink, who is also a professor of biology at MIT. "We used to attack this human pathogen with our hands tied behind our back. Our findings cut these bonds, freeing us to forge ahead on problems in basic research and human health."

While startups like Intellia, Editas and CRISPR Therapeutics have been in the spotlight for using CRISPR-Cas9 to develop a new class of therapeutics, research groups around the world have been pursuing experiments like this one at Whitehead to see just how much potential the technology has in the lab.

- here's the Whitehead news item
- read the research article