Scientists develop new CRISPR-based tool to control epigenome

Scientists have revealed how to modify CRISPR’s basic architecture to extend its reach beyond the genome and into the epigenome – proteins and small molecules that latch onto DNA and control when and where genes are switched on or off. Researchers at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the Whitehead Institute, both US, developed the novel CRISPR-based tool called “CRISPRoff” which allows scientists to switch off almost any gene in human cells without making a single edit to the genetic code. 

According to the team, because the epigenome plays a central role in many diseases, from viral infection to cancer, the CRISPRoff technology may one day lead to powerful epigenetic therapies. Since this approach does not involve any DNA edits, it is likely to be safer than conventional CRISPR therapeutics, which have been known to cause unwanted and potentially harmful changes to the genome.

“Though genetic and cellular therapies are the future of medicine, there are potential safety concerns around permanently changing the genome, which is why we are trying to come up with other ways to use CRISPR to treat disease,” said Professor Luke Gilbert, Gabrielle’s Angels grantee and co-senior author of the new paper.

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