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Quick Cell Edits

Researchers have found a way to quickly edit the genes of the immune systems' white blood cells, the New York Times reports.

A team led by the University of California, San Francisco's Alexander Marson developed a CRISPR-Cas9 system that doesn't need a viral targeting system — it instead relies on electroporation — to insert large swathes of DNA in the genomes of primary human T cells.

As they report in Nature, the researchers applied their approach to correct an IL2RA mutation in cells from patients with monogenic primary immune deficiency with autoimmune disease. That, they report, improved the cells' signaling function. Marson and his colleagues likewise used it to alter the endogenous T cell receptor (TCR) locus in cells with one targeting a cancer antigen. Those edited cells, the researchers say, then recognized cancer cells and mounted a defense.

The researchers note that the work is still preclinical, but the Times adds that the investigators have been in touch with the US Food and Drug Administration about using their approach to treat solid cancers.

"The proof will be when this technology is used to develop a new therapeutic product," Massachusetts General Hospital's Marcela Maus notes at the Times.