(CANADA)

The holy grail of gene-editing tech that can provide effective treatment for people suffering from diseases – including cancers – has moved a step closer.

The breakthrough by researchers at the University of Alberta relates to a molecule that can enhance the accuracy of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing; a system that can reprogramme genes which are defective – but, as Basil Hubbard, who led the study – published in Nature Communications, warns: “one wrong cut and a patient could end up with a serious condition like cancer.”

Explaining the science behind the discovery, Hubbard, assistant professor in the university’s Department of Pharmacology, said: “We’ve discovered a way to greatly improve the accuracy of gene-editing technology by replacing the natural guide molecule it uses with a synthetic one called a bridged nucleic acid, or BNA.”

He added: “Our research shows that the use of bridged nucleic acids to guide Cas9 can improve its specificity by over 10,000 times in certain instances–a dramatic improvement.”

The team has filed a patent and are now looking to collaborate with the pharmaceutical industry to take the innovation forward.

This breakthrough follows another earlier this week, by a collaborative team of researchers from Imperial College London and Emory University – who are developing a new class of drugs to fight ‘treatment-resistant cancers’.