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Reaching new horizons in Alzheimer's research

The role of CRISPR-Cas9 technology

The complexity of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a formidable foe, marked by its relentless progression and the absence of a definitive cure. As the leading cause of dementia, its prevalence is expected to triple by 2050. Traditional therapies mainly focus on managing symptoms; however, advances in genetics research, specifically CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, offer newfound hope for understanding and treating this debilitating condition.

The disease is characterized by progressive deterioration of cognitive function, with memory loss being its hallmark symptom. Primarily affecting individuals aged 65 and over, age is the most significant risk factor. Although this precise cause remains elusive, scientists believe that a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors contributes to its development.

CRISPR’s role in Alzheimer’s research

After the discovery of using CRISPR-Cas9 for gene editing, this technology is receiving interest for its potential ability to manipulate genes contributing to Alzheimer’s. Researchers from the University of Tokyo used a screening technique involving CRISPR-Cas9 to identify calcium, proteins, and integrin-binding protein 1, which is involved in the formation of AD.

Furthermore, Canadian researchers have edited genes in brain cells to prevent Alzheimer’s using CRISPR. The team identified a genetic variant called A673T, found to decrease Alzheimer’s likelihood by a factor of four and reduce Alzheimer’s biomarker beta-amyloid (Aβ). Using CRISPR in petri dish studies, they managed to activate this A673T variant in lab-grown brain cells. However, the reliability and validity of this finding are yet to be confirmed by replication in animal studies.

One final example of CRISPR application is targeting the amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene. The Swedish mutation in the APP gene is associated with dominantly inherited AD. Scientists were able to specifically target and disrupt the mutant allele of this gene using CRISPR, which decreased pathogenic Aβ peptide. Degenerating neurons are surrounded by Aβ fibrils, the production of Αβ in the brain initiates a series of events which cause the clinical syndrome of dementia. The results of this study were replicated both ex vivo and in vivo and demonstrated this could be a potential treatment strategy in the future.

The road ahead

While CRISPR technology’s potential in Alzheimer’s research is promising, its therapeutic application is still in its Infancy. Nevertheless, with the aid of cutting-edge tools like CRISPR, deepening our understanding of AD, we are on the cusp of breakthroughs that could transform the landscape of Alzheimer’s disease treatment.

Written by Maya El Toukhy

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