New medicine could prevent disease before it begins — but at a cost

For stretched public health budgets, high-tech treatments are hard to afford but some pre-emptive measures can prove good value.

As hay fever season arrives, once again, for allergy and asthma sufferers in the northern hemisphere, researchers in California are working on a new treatment that could prevent childhood asthma entirely — through a slight tweak to bacteria in the gut.

Scientists at Berkeley and San Francisco universities have found a link between these microbes and the chances of suffering from childhood asthma. So, now, using Crispr gene editing — a new technology that allows precise changes to be made to DNA — they are exploring how to alter the bacteria to remove the risk of children developing the lung condition.

“We’re at the stage where we have target organisms, and even target genes, that we know are contributing to a wide range of clinical outcomes,” says Susan Lynch, head of San Francisco’s Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine and the lead researcher on the asthma project.

The project will use tools developed by the Innovative Genomics Institute, founded by Nobel-prize winning-scientist Jennifer Doudna who was one of two discoverers of the gene editing potential of the DNA sequence Crispr-Cas9.

While Lynch’s work is linked to asthma, the Institute is also exploring how to apply Crispr to other challenging disease areas.

Brad Ringeisen, executive director of the IGI, has identified links between gut inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Wouldn’t it be great if you could turn those mechanisms off, or shift the microbiome away at an early time point where you’re now preventing those diseases, or pushing them off further in life, rather than trying to treat something that’s really recalcitrant?” says Ringeisen.







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