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UC Berkeley Finally Scores a Win With Two CRISPR Patents

14 Červen, 2018 - 20:32

Before CRISPR can transform our world, it’s gotta get out of court.

There’s been a legal battle going on to determine which of the scientists whose research led to CRISPR’s discovery gets to own it (and collect money from licensing it).

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) just decided to grant not one, but two new CRISPR patents to UC Berkeley, home of biochemist Jennifer Doudna, who many consider the creator of CRISPR.

A patent gives an inventor legal ownership of their unique invention or discovery. If anyone else wants to use that invention, they need to get the green light from the patent owner, and they usually have to pay for the privilege. And when you consider the tremendous potential of CRISPR, and the different fields in which it could be used, you begin to get an idea how valuable CRISPR patents can be.

In 2012, Doudna and her colleagues set the CRISPR revolution in motion when they published the first paper on the enzyme in Science. But in 2017, the USPTO granted Feng Zhang and his team from Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT the coveted patent for using CRISPR-Cas9 to edit DNA in mammals. Doudna’s team is appealing that decision, but faces an uphill battle.

While the CRISPR-Cas9 patent currently owned by the Broad team is arguably the most valuable, not the only CRISPR patent out there. As of April, the USPTO had already issued 60 CRISPR-related patents to inventors at 18 different organizations, each different enough for the USPTO to consider it a unique invention.

On Tuesday, the office granted UC Berkeley its first CRISPR-related patent, which the university applied for in 2014. This one focuses on using CRISPR-Cas9 to edit single-stranded RNA (and not DNA).

The USPTO will reportedly grant UC Berkeley the other patent, which the university applied for in 2015, next week, according to a STAT News report. That patent centers on using the standard CRISPR-Cas9 system to edit regions specifically 10 to 15 base pairs long. UC Berkley sees a number of potential applications in research, diagnostics, and industry for their new CRISPR patent.

But the rest of the scientific community sees it differently. A spokesman for the Broad told STAT the issued patent’s claims “are extremely narrow and would have little or no effect on the CRISPR field.” Another expert, New York Law School associate professor Jacob Sherkow, said he expected the second patent to have “pretty minimal” commercial value.

Meanwhile, biotech patent expert Kevin Noonan also downplayed the importance of the new CRISPR patents, telling STAT, “I think [UC Berkeley is] just happy to get a patent.”

Ouch. Is there a CRISPR technique UC Berkeley can use to heal burns?

No matter how important these specific patents are, the sheer number of granted patents is a testament to the amount of research dedicated to CRISPR. With each new discovery, we get one step closer to that imagined future free of disease, hunger, and possibly even aging.

The post UC Berkeley Finally Scores a Win With Two CRISPR Patents appeared first on Futurism.

Kategorie: Transhumanismus

CRISPR Could Help Us Cure Diseases. It Could Also Cause Cancer.

12 Červen, 2018 - 00:10

You know already about the promise for CRISPR-Cas9 — it might revolutionize fields from medicine to agriculture.

It might also eventually cause tumors.

That’s the takeaway from two new studies, published Monday in Nature Medicine. Both studies, one by Novartis and the other by the Karolinska Institute, focus on the gene p53, known to play a major role in tumor prevention by killing cells with damaged DNA. According to past research, most human tumors simply can’t form if p53 is working properly — some researchers refer to it as the “guardian of the genome.”

Unfortunately, p53 is also something of a natural defense against the kinds of changes to the genome made by CRISPR-Cas9. When researchers use CRISPR-Cas9 to snip and replace some DNA, p53 jumps into action, causing the edited cells to self-destruct. This renders the CRISPR edit essentially moot, which could explain why CRISPR isn’t terribly efficient.

Here’s the issue. When a CRISPR-Cas9 edit does stick, that could mean the cell’s p53 isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to. And dysfunctional p53 may be a precursor to a host of cancers, such as those in the ovaries, colon and rectum, and the esophagus.

“By picking cells that have successfully repaired the damaged gene we intended to fix, we might inadvertently also pick cells without functional p53,” Emma Haapaniemi, one of the authors of the Karolinska study, said in a press release. “If transplanted into a patient, as in gene therapy for inherited diseases, such cells could give rise to cancer, raising concerns for the safety of CRISPR-based gene therapies.”

But don’t worry, the CRISPR revolution is far from over.

First: these are very early-stage studies presenting “preliminary results,” as biochemist Bernhard Schmierer, co-leader of the Karolinska study, told STAT News. “It is unclear if the findings translate into cells actually used in current clinical studies,” he added.

Second, the studies focus on just one type of CRISPR edit: replacing disease-causing DNA with healthy DNA (“gene correction”) using CRISPR-Cas9. While Cas9 is the most well-known CRISPR enzyme, there are others — Cpf1, for example — and we don’t yet know if they’d cause the same issues with p53.

We can also use CRISPR to simply knock out disease-causing DNA without replacing it (“gene modification”). This type of edit can stick even when p53 is functional, Haapaniemi noted. That’s the type of genetic change at the center of a number of high-profile CRISPR projects: CRISPR Therapeutics’ sickle-cell and thalassemia trials, Editas Medicine’s research to address blindness, and the University of Pennsylvania’s tumor-targeting T-cell research — the first trial of CRISPR in humans in the U.S.

The authors of the two new studies admit their research doesn’t mean CRISPR-Cas9 is “bad or dangerous.” We just need to proceed with caution.

Unfortunately, the finer details of these studies appear lost on the people holding the purse strings — a number of CRISPR-focused companies saw shares fall sharply following the studies’ release. Clearly, any link to the Big C is a big problem for CRISPR researchers, no matter how tenuous it might be.

The post CRISPR Could Help Us Cure Diseases. It Could Also Cause Cancer. appeared first on Futurism.

Kategorie: Transhumanismus

We’ve Reached A New Level In Bionics: Artificial Limbs We Forget Are Artificial

31 Květen, 2018 - 02:37

Improved amputation techniques are giving amputees with advanced prosthetic limbs a feeling of control comparable to that of their original arms and legs, according to new research out of MIT.

A team of biophysicists and engineers was able to create a natural-feeling prosthetic by taking a smarter approach to amputation. In this new approach, the scientists carefully rebuilt the relationship between opposing muscles (like how your bicep and tricep pull your forearm in opposite directions) and integrated a prosthetic limb with that muscular relationship. When they did so, patients felt a restored sense of proprioception – the ability to discern the location and movement of your limbs without looking at them.

Shriya Srinivasan, one of the researchers on the MIT team, realized that amputation techniques had barely progressed since the American Civil War. Thus, she was inspired to see if there was a better way to do things that might give rise to a better integration of person and machine, she explained to Popular Mechanics.

“It feels like… you put the bones back in my foot,” said one patient who was able to wiggle a brain-controlled neuroprosthetic foot. This occurred without any noticeable delay between the time the brain sent out the signal for the foot to move, and when the bionic limb responded.

MIT’s Tyler Clites, who led the research, and his team conducted tests on seven people who received the improved amputations. In those tests, the individuals were able to wiggle robotic feet, climb steps, and do other tasks that many take for granted – but pose challenges for people with prosthetic limbs – without any major delays as their bionic legs interpreted the brain’s instructions.

Work like this marks a major step forward in prosthetics research, as it approaches its ultimate goal of restoring total autonomy to people’s lives. This focus on the biological side of the interface of biology and engineering could lead to a future where amputation isn’t necessarily a last-ditch medical effort, but one where people can walk away and still do many (if not all) of the things they could do with their original limbs.

The post We’ve Reached A New Level In Bionics: Artificial Limbs We Forget Are Artificial appeared first on Futurism.

Kategorie: Transhumanismus