Gene Editing via Human Microbiome modification may prevent asthma and other diseases in the future

May 13, 2023 | Microbiology Lab

A new project from TED Audacious Project has been funded following a study that theorized disease may be prevented via changes in the microbial environment in a child’s body. Researchers from the University of California (UC) in San Francisco (SF) and Berkeley campuses are working toward editing genes of microbes in the gut and airways that take part in disease acquisition and development.

Sue Lynch, Ph.D., director of Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine (BCMM) at UCSF, will utilize CRISPR-based gene editing tools customized for the project by leading gene scientist the UC Berkeley– Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., and microbiome specialist Jill Banfield, Ph.D.

The project aims to perform precise edits of the genomic components of microbial cells associated with asthma and further such modification in human clinical trials.

“We’re very excited about the possibility of developing a whole new realm of human therapeutics based on precision microbiome engineering,” says, Sam Hawgood, MBBs, chancellor at UCSF. “Asthma is a good starting point because we already have clear microbial targets to pursue.”

The project is currently working toward identifying additional microbial genes linked to asthma during the first year of the infant gut microbiome. Such is goal is preceded by Lynch’s discovery in 2019 about a molecule produced by an infant’s gut bacteria that predicts the risk of allergy and asthma in childhood. The team’s goal is to edit the genomes of such bacteria to stop them from producing the molecule.

At UC Berkeley, the work will focus on developing tools that can accurately deliver CRISPR machinery to meet the needs of the project in targeting specific microbes in the baby’s digestive tract.

“We are taking improved gene editing tools and combining them with our understanding of how the microbiome promotes disease to develop novel microbiome interventions and test them in clinical trials.”, says Lynch in an interview.

Lynch and the team envision that the future technologies born out of the project will aid in the study of many other microbial environments in the body. They aim to produce a future where a system of accessing microbiome screens to determine whether microbial traits will be possible that can be safely engineered in or out of the system through a suite of CRISPR-based tools.

“We want to leverage our rapidly developing knowledge of the human microbiome and tools such as CRISPR to build the next generation of precision therapeutics.”

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