Gene editing technique could improve cancer treatments, other ailments

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Researchers claim they have created a gene editing technique capable of reprogramming immune cells, potentially paving the way for breakthrough treatments for cancer and other conditions.

Scientists at the University of California San Francisco developed a method where they use a "cut and paste" system to rewrite sequences in immune cells, or T cells.

They also use a process involving electrical fields on cells to make them more permeable for a brief time.

"This is a rapid, flexible method that can be used to alter, enhance, and reprogram T cells so we can give them the specificity we want to destroy cancer, recognize infections, or tamp down the excessive immune response seen in autoimmune disease,” said Alex Marson, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at UCSF, and senior author of the study, in a statement.

Researchers used CRISPR, a tool used to edit genes. In one set of experiments, scientists native receptors in immune cells with receptors created to seek out melanoma cells. When they were transferred in mice implanted with human melanoma tumors, the special cells moved directly to the tumor.

In a separate experiment, researchers used the method to repair cells from three human siblings with a rare autoimmune disease.

Their findings were published in the journal Nature.

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Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

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