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Pain Modulation via Genetic Engineering?

New Technology Blocks Chronic Inflammation and Tissue Damage

Researchers at University of Utah, in collaboration with colleagues from Duke University and Washington University, St. Louis, have announced a new approach to pain management via modulating genes that reduce inflammation in cells and tissues. The approach used CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat) technology to edit the way that genes turn on and off so that cells are protected from inflammation and tissue degeneration. Study leader Robby Bowles, PhD, assistant professor of bioengineering at University of Utah, commented, “This has applications for many inflammatory-driven diseases. It could be applied for arthritis or to therapeutic cells that are being delivered to inflammatory environments that need to be protected from inflammation.” The research findings are published this month in Tissue Engineering.

Back pain from slipped or herniated discs can be provoked by inflammation causing cells to break down tissue. While acute inflammation can induce the immune system to repair tissue, chronic inflammation can lead to tissue degeneration and pain. The CRISPR tools disrupt the pattern of chronic inflammation by altering genetic expression. Dr. Bowles observed “Normally, cells do this themselves, but we are taking engineering control over these cells to tell them what to turn on and turn off.” The team has developed a virus that is capable of delivering the gene therapy, on which a patent has been filed, and hope to proceed next to human trials.

A news story about the discovery may be read here.

The study abstract may be read here.

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