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Genetic PAC-MAN thrown to fight coronavirus. For now in the laboratories

An outbreak of a coronavirus pandemic can also have positive effects. Many researchers are currently looking for new ways to fight viruses. One of them is Tim Abbott and his idea of ​​using CRISPR gene editing.

It is also a good moment to reflect. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, it seemed to us that the world of science was still rushing ahead and almost every day presents new great solutions for everything. In fact, however, it turned out that we are using solutions developed in the past centuries to fight coronavirus.

Don't you believe Here you are:

  • quarantine - a method from the 13th century
  • symptomatic treatment - 17th century
  • preventive vaccinations (if a coronavirus vaccine is created) - 18th century

Of course, we have much more knowledge and tests for the presence of coronavirus, but in fact, the ways to fight this threat are nothing new. That is why many experts, even before the appearance of the Wuhan coronavirus, warned against undiscovered viruses that, due to the lack of effective means to fight them, could threaten our civilization.

SARS-CoV-2 is the best example and fortunately it has relatively low mortality. Imagine a scenario in which COVID-19 kills, e.g. 25% people. Macabre. In this way of thinking, in addition to research on the development of an effective vaccine against the virus, many scientists began to think about a more universal solution, native to the XXI. century.

CRISPR versus coronavirus

One of these ideas is to use the CRISPR method , which is the most proven method for editing genes. How to use it to fight the virus? Tim Abbott, a PhD student at the Faculty of Bioengineering at Stanford University, came up with a very simple idea: to create a solution that would destroy the structure of the virus and thus neutralize it.

This idea, of course, still requires refinement of countless details, but the concept itself is very interesting. Like all systems based on the CRISPR method, this one also consists of two parts: an enzyme for destroying selected bonds in the structure of the virus code and the so-called "RNA guide," or a piece of RNA code that serves to guide the enzyme to the desired places where the genetic code of the virus joins.

The most difficult in the whole concept was to choose the best places for cutting. SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is built of approx. 30,000 nucleotides, while the RNA conductor itself can indicate to the enzyme cleavage sites with a maximum length of 22 nucleotides. However, this was not a task that computers could not cope with.

The method itself, which involves cutting the genetic code of the virus in such a way as to prevent it from replicating in the human body, was named by Abott PAC-MAN, which in development means Prophylactic Antiviral Crispr in huMAN cells. I don't need to explain the abbreviation to anyone.

In the end, a prototype of the method was developed, thanks to which coronavirus cells would lose the ability to replicate in the human body, and our immune system would cope with the remnants. In theory, such a PAC-MAN can be prepared to fight any virus.

PAC-MAN problems

First of all, Abott tested his idea on a safe copy of SARS-CoV-2, i.e. a coronavirus with the same structure, but synthetically created in the laboratory and devoid of all the aggressive features of the original. So we don't know whether the solution developed by Abott would destroy the original coronavirus. Let's consider it a smaller caliber problem - you can always choose a different enzyme and modify the RNA conductor.

The second problem is the very way the PAC-MAN is delivered to the right place in the human body. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, it would be best to deliver the PAC-MAN to the lungs, which are a particularly difficult battlefield. This is one of the reasons for the rapid publication of this idea - a team of scientists from Stanford simply hopes that someone else has already solved their problem.

This may turn out to be true - after publication, Dr. Santangelo from the Georgia Tech university turned to Abott, who some time ago developed a special nebulizer, i.e. a device for inhalation of mist, containing a properly prepared CRISPR solution.

In this way, you can reach infected cells in your lungs and force them to stop virus replication. At least in theory. How about the practice? This is not yet known. The first tests of the nebulizer on laboratory mice are scheduled at the end of this week.

Problem number three is that the whole idea comes down to the introduction of a solution whose task is to cut, and destroy the appropriate elements of the genetic code in the virus cells. And what if it turns out that there are other useful cells in the human lungs that will also be destroyed by PAC-MAN?

So far, only three human studies have been conducted with CRISPR, approved by the US FDA. Editing genes inside the human body can be extremely risky, which is why all researchers are extremely cautious about this process. Inadvertent damage to a key part of the genome can even lead to death of the patient.

The idea, however, sounds great

Instead of worrying about the above problems, let's imagine that the researchers have already solved them, and the CRISPR method itself has been refined so that it no longer raises any concerns. In such a scenario, we would be much better protected against viral infections.

Is the flu season starting? You're welcome, here's an OTC inhaler with the right fluid that cuts the influenza virus into slices. We recommend using it as a preventive measure, consult before using ...

A new virus appears? Here you are, a new solution, with a new enzyme, kills the virus in 24 hours. To get in any good pharmacy. We recommend to use preventively, consult before use ...

Going further, maybe in the even more distant future we will not need any nebulizers or inhalers? Instead, medicine will offer comprehensive interference in our immune system, which after such surgery will deal with any virus on its own.

And if this approach fails, we can always try an idea in which millions of nanobots powered by our body fluids constantly comb our body in search of threats and neutralize them on a regular basis.

For now, however, the only sensible way to fight coronavirus is to sit at home .

Genetic PAC-MAN thrown to fight coronavirus. For now in the laboratories


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