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Editing heart cells for research


Heart

Researchers have used a genetic technique to edit the heart muscle cells of mice, potentially making it a better method of research into cardiovascular diseases.


The study, led by the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), used the gene editing method called CRISPR interference (CRISPRi) to reduce the activity of different genes in mouse heart muscle cells. This could be significant for future research as heart conditions are often inherited and caused by faulty genes.


CRISPRi editing avoids the risks associated with modifying genetic code using the more conventional CRISPR-Cas9 method (see EARA article), as it does not involve any cutting of DNA – which can cause changes in other parts of the genome that are not the intended target.


Instead, CRISPRi silences genes by binding a ‘dead’ protein to the DNA, rather than cutting the DNA, which means any effect it has can be reversed when the protein unbinds from the gene.


To introduce the CRISPRi system into the cells, the researchers used viruses as a vehicle (a common way to deliver DNA or genes into the body).


The researchers were then able to show that CRISPRi could work on several genes within the cells not only of mice, but also rats and those from human stem cells, reducing the activity of some genes in the heart muscles by 95%.


The research is an important proof-of-concept that may pave the way for developing therapies for inherited heart conditions in the future.


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