World News – AU – Genetic editing may cure sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia


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Scientists see promising early results from the first studies testing gene editing for painful, inherited blood disorders that affect millions worldwide.

Doctors hope that the one-time treatment that permanently changes the DNA in blood cells using a tool called CRISPR can treat, and potentially cure, sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.

Partial results were presented at a conference of the American Society of Hematology on Saturday, and some were published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

All of them no longer need regular blood transfusions and are free from the pain crises that previously plagued their lives.

Victoria Gray, the first patient in the sickle cell study, was in severe pain for a long time, which often took her to the hospital.

« I’ve had aching pains, sharp pains, burning pains, as you call it. That’s all I’ve known all my life, ”said Gray, 35, who lives in Forest, Mississippi. “I hurt everywhere my blood flowed. ”

Since her treatment a year ago, Gray has weaned herself from pain medication that she relied on to relieve her symptoms.

« It’s something I’ve prayed for all my life, » she said. “I pray everyone will have the same results as me. ”

Sickle cells affect millions of people around the world, including African Americans. Beta thalassemia affects about 1 in 100. 000 people. The only cure now is a bone marrow transplant from a closely matched donor without the disease like a sibling that most people do not have.

Both diseases involve mutations in a gene for hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.

In sickle cells, defective hemoglobin leads to deformed, sickle-shaped blood cells that do not transport oxygen well.

People with beta thalassemia do not have enough normal hemoglobin and experience anemia, fatigue, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. In severe cases, transfusions are required every two to five weeks.

In the womb, fetuses produce a special type of hemoglobin. When babies breathe on their own after birth, a gene is activated that instructs cells to switch and make an adult form of hemoglobin instead.

Adult hemoglobin is defective in people with one of these diseases. The CRISPR machining aims to cut out the Schaltgen.

« What we’re doing is turn that switch back on and make the cells believe that they’re basically back in the uterus » so that they start producing fetal hemoglobin again, said a study director, Dr. . Haydar Frangoul of the Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville.

The treatment involves removing stem cells from the patient’s blood and then using CRISPR in a laboratory to turn off the switching gene. Patients are given powerful drugs to kill their other, faulty blood-producing cells.

Saturday’s results were in the first 10 patients, seven with beta thalassemia and three with sickle cells. The two studies in Europe and the US are ongoing and will each include 45 patients.

Tests to date suggest that gene editing is working as intended with no unintended effects, Frangoul said.

The study was sponsored by therapy manufacturers CRISPR Therapeutics, headquartered in Zug, Switzerland, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, based in Massachusetts.

Dr. David Williams of Boston Children’s Hospital at Harvard announced partial results of a study that tested a novel gene therapy that is also intended to restore the production of fetal hemoglobin in sickle cells.

Six patients, including one in 7, received treatment that involved removing some of their blood stem cells and changing them in the laboratory to attenuate the hemoglobin switching gene. None of them had pain crises, five of the six no longer need transfusions and all of them have almost normal hemoglobin, he reported at the conference and in the medical journal.

Government grants for work. Williams is named after a patent for the therapy that Boston Children’s granted to Bluebird Bio Inc. Has licensed. from Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company provided the therapy for the study, which will involve a total of 10 people, to ensure safety. A larger study to test the effectiveness is planned.

Williams, who was not involved in Frangoul’s study, said this « confirms this approach » of targeting the hemoglobin switching gene against sickle cells.

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Sickle Cell Disease, Cell, Gene Therapy, Hematological Disease, Hematology

World News – AU – Gene Editing May Cure Sickle Cell Disease, Beta Thalassemia


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