Shifting Perceptions of CRISPR: From Controversial Gene Editing Tool to Indispensable SARS-CoV-2 Variant Surveillance Tool

Castelyn, Camille

More than 20 cell and gene therapies are now available to safely minimize genetic diseases such as retinal dystrophy (LUXTURNA), some B-cell lymphomas (YESCARTA), and B-cell lymphoblastic leukemia (KYMRIAH). One such gene-editing tool is Clustered Regular Inter Spaced Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) and its associated proteins or CRISPR-Cas. Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier described CRISPR’s potential as an accurate genome editing tool in 2012. The FDA approved the first cell and gene therapy in 2017. The FDA is continually approving more CRISPR clinical trials, including therapies to treat sickle cell anemia, cancer, and HIV.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the broad potential applications of CRISPR have extended beyond gene editing. CRISPR is being used in rapid diagnostic testing to determine not only whether an individual becomes infected with SARS-Cov-2 but also the specific variant. As with many diagnostic tests, scientists still face challenges like speed, sensitivity (the ability of the test to detect viral load), and robustness (the ability of the test to give accurate results in the field).

Nonetheless, these tests could revolutionize surveillance of the virus and help curb the spread of new variants as they arise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are SARS-CoV-2 variants of interest, variants of concern, and variants of high consequence. In varying degrees, these may impact the efficacy of different vaccines and treatment plans. Knowing which variant an individual has or is circulating within a population informs public health policy.


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Voices in Bioethics

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August 29, 2022


Gene Therapy, CRISPR, COVID-19, Diagnostic Testing, Public Health, Clinical Trials