Synthetic biologists are working to develop a way to “read” the human genome, with the hope of making bioprinting a viable option for medical research.
This week, researchers announced the first of several biosignatures for an already-in-progress drug, a bioprosthetic that can be implanted directly into the skin.
The bioprocessing technology that has so far taken the form of gene therapy and protein-based bioink has the potential to revolutionize how researchers tackle diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.
The most promising approach is using the DNA-based approach pioneered by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which was first used in 2012 to treat the cancer-causing mutation that causes Huntington’s disease.
Researchers were able to use this technology to create a type of synthetic DNA that could be reprogrammed to do something as simple as reading the human genetic code.
This method can be used to make a DNA clone that can then be implanted into a patient’s body.
Researchers at the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition at the Georgia Institute of Technology have been working to improve on the technology, using an improved version of the DNA method.
The new synthetic version of a gene called the transcription factor CRISPR-Cas9, which codes for a protein called Cas9, has the capability to target a specific genetic sequence.
Scientists are now able to produce an RNA version of this protein that is then injected into a cell and targeted by the CRISPS-Cas7 enzyme, which breaks the DNA down into RNA, which can then guide the DNA into the cell.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Science have also been working on developing a synthetic gene-editing technique called zinc finger transcription, which uses a modified version of CRISPA-Cas8 to make RNA from the DNA, which then can be injected into cells.
This method has already been successfully used to produce a modified protein that can also be implanted.
However, scientists are still working to perfect the technique, which has been hampered by the complexity of creating a synthetic genome.
“We’re working hard to make this technology more efficient, but we’re not there yet,” says Jennifer A. Tung, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is also a co-founder of the Synthetic Genomics Initiative.
Tung is working on creating a “bioprospecting” tool that can tell researchers about the genetic makeup of a cell.
She says that using RNA to mimic the DNA sequence of a protein might give researchers a better idea of what genes are present and what is missing.
“By creating this synthetic DNA, we could do things that we wouldn’t have been able to do before with a CRISP-Cas-based technique,” she says.TUNG says the new technique could be used as a first step to making synthetic versions of other genes, but she also cautions that it is not yet ready for clinical trials.
“There are some exciting things that have happened in this field, but there is a lot of work still to be done,” she adds.
In an editorial published last month, the journal Nature Biotechnology said that the new approach could be useful for creating synthetic versions in the future.
However A.A. Proulx, a professor of biotechnology and molecular biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says that the approach is not a panacea for all diseases.
“The technology isn’t perfect,” Proulerx says.
“It’s not a cure-all.
But it’s a very promising step.
It can make a step towards a cure for certain diseases.”
Prouler, who was not involved in the research, also caustically says that there is still much work to be completed.
“We’re not seeing this as the panacea that the scientists are saying it is.
It’s not for every disease, and there’s still a lot to be learned,” he says.”
So, it’s good to be optimistic.
But the road to this point has been a long one.
So, if we don’t get there and we’re going in the wrong direction, then we’re in trouble.”
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