The coronavirus has been burning through the population for quite some time now. The virus can now be found anywhere in the world, and the world governments are trying to contain the fallout of this pandemic to the best of their abilities. Therapies for the treatment of COVID-19 are scarce and experimental. Almost none of them have shown efficacy in large scale trials, and most of them are still at the drawing board stage. Ranging from plasma therapy to using remedesivir to treat the disease, the solutions being readied hold some promise. However, none can claim effectiveness.
To add to the possible number of therapies that can be employed against the virus, a new approach has surfaced which utilizes the highly acclaimed CRISPR technology. Researchers from Stanford University are working with researchers from the Molecular Foundry, a nanoscience user facility located at the Department of Energy’s Lawerence Berkely National Laboratory, to develop a candidate therapy for COVID-19.
The therapy finds its origin in the works of Stanley Qi, assistant professor at Stanford University, who is developing a technique called PAC-MAN (Prophylactic Antiviral CRISPR in huMAN cells). This technique sought to utilize the gene-editing tool CRISPR to fight influenza.
The news of a pandemic breaking out all over the globe suddenly prompted the assistant professor to think about whether they could utilize PAC-MAN to fight Coronavirus. This also resulted in their partnership with the Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry so that they could develop a therapy that develops PAC-MAN to the cells of COVID-19 patients.
The PAC-MAN is a simple system, like most of the CRISPR based systems, it has the enzyme known as Cas13 and a guide RNA. The CAS13 enzyme uses the guide RNA to identify and destroy specific nucleotide sequences in the genome of the Coronavirus.
The biggest challenge that Qi and his team face in converting PAC-MAN into therapy for COVID-19 is the method of delivering it to the lung cells. The virus attacks the lung cells, which leads to inflammation and subsequently to the lung being filled with fluid.
The lab at which PAC-MAN was developed doesn’t work with delivery methods, so they had to partner up with the Berkeley Lab, which specializes in cellular delivery techniques. Molecular Foundry uses synthetic molecules called liptoids to deliver different things to the cells. As part of the collaboration, they have already demonstrated the efficacy of liptoids in the delivery of DNA and RNA to a variety of cell lines.
The method requires a lot of polish, and it needs to be tested thoroughly before it can be deployed against the pandemic. However, the greater number of options we have, the better chance we have of beating this pandemic.