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Researchers break ground when using gene editing tools


Researchers report the first use of the CRISPR gene editing tool to try to cure a patient's HIV infection by providing altered blood cells to resist the AIDS virus. The gene editing tool has long been used in research labs, and a Chinese researcher was mocked last year when he revealed that he used it on embryos that led to twin girls. Editing embryos is considered too risky, partly because the DNA changes can pass to future generations. Wednesday's report in the New England Journal of Medicine by various Chinese researchers, is the first published report on using CRISPR to treat an illness in an adult, where the DNA changes are limited to that person. The trial was successful in some ways but did not come to be an HIV cure, reports the AP.

It still shows that gene editing holds promise and seems accurate and safe in this patient so far, Dr. Carl June, a University of Pennsylvania genetics expert who wrote a comment in the journal. "It's really good for the field," June said. The research was done openly with advance notice of a scientific register and standardized procedures for informed consent. Some of these steps were missing or questioned in last year's embryo work. Gene editing permanently alters DNA. CRISPR is a relatively new tool that researchers can use to cut DNA at a specific site. An encouraging result: Several tests show that editing did not have unintended effects on other genes. "They did a very innovative experiment on a patient, and it sure was," said an expert on Johns Hopkins per Live Science.

(Read more CRISPR stories.)

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