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Gene-editing damages DNA more than previously thought: study

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A revolutionary gene editing technique hailed as the future of disease eradication and mooted for a Nobel prize may be less precise and cause more cell damage than previously thought, researchers said Monday.

Lab experiments using mouse and human cells revealed that the CRISPR-Cas9 technique “frequently” caused “extensive” gene mutations, a study team reported.

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“This is the first systematic assessment of unexpected events resulting from CRISPR-Cas9 editing,” said Allan Bradley of the Wellcome Sanger Institute in England, where the team conducts research.

The research showed that “changes in the DNA have been seriously underestimated before now,” said Bradley, who co-authored a study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

The mutations have not been shown to be harmful, nor benign.

“It is important that anyone thinking of using this technology for gene therapy proceeds with caution and looks very carefully to check for harmful effects,” Bradley said in a statement issued by the institute.

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First unveiled about six years ago, CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to insert, remove and correct a faulty sequence on a strand of DNA in a cell with pinpoint precision.

It has raised hopes that one day disease-causing genes could be removed or altered before a baby is even born.

In recent years, CRISPR-Cas9 has repeatedly been predicted to win the Nobel chemistry prize.

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CRISPRs — clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats — are part of the immune defence system in bacteria, used to hone in on the exact spot on the genome where the cut should be made.

Cas9 is a protein used as “scissors” to snip through the faulty gene, which is then replaced or fixed by the cell’s own DNA repair mechanism.

– ‘Safety implications’ –

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The technique’s safety has not yet been proven, and it is not approved for use in human therapy.

So far, researchers have used it to improve hearing in mice going deaf and to fix a disease-causing mutation in cloned, early-stage human embryos.

But the new finding raises “safety implications,” the team said.

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They found “large genetic rearrangements such as DNA deletions and insertions” in cells, which could lead to important genes being switched on or off and causing dangerous changes.

The research also showed that standard tests do not pick up damage to DNA caused by CRISPR-Cas9.

Experts not involved in the study said it was unclear how such large, unintended changes were not noticed before.

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But, “the results give no reason to panic or to lose faith in the methods when they are carried out by those who know what they are doing,” said Robin Lovell-Badge of The Francis Crick Institute, a biomedical research centre in London.

For Francesca Forzano, a consultant in clinical genetics and genomics with the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, the work showed that CRISPR-Cas9 “is much less safe than previously thought” and that safety-monitoring techniques were “not entirely adequate”.

More research is needed before any clinical application of the method is considered, said Forzano.

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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Trump’s presidency is backfiring as the public grows more and more opposed to his views: report

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Watching clips from recent rallies in red states, it is obvious that President Donald Trump continues to be wildly popular among his hardcore far-right base. But that base is by no means representative of the United States on the whole. And journalist David A. Graham, in a report for The Atlantic, explains that not only is Trump failing to expand his base — he is, more and more, out of touch with public opinion.

“Recent polling shows that Donald Trump has managed to reshape American attitudes to a remarkable extent on a trio of his key issues: race, immigration and trade,” Graham observes. “There’s just one catch: the public is turning against Trump’s views.”

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George Conway erupts on Trump lackeys who are smearing Scaramucci: ‘These people work for a rapist!’

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Several anonymous Trump officials told the Washington Examiner this week that former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci regularly abused staff members in the 11 short days in which he was employed by the president.

George Conway, the husband of Trump White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, lashed out on Tuesday at the Trump officials who anonymously attacked Scaramucci and accused them of overlooking President Donald Trump's own abusive behavior.

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‘Absolutely ludicrous’: Canadian election officials tell green groups that ads urging rescue of planet earth could be illegal

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"We would have to bury the scientific consensus around climate change when we should be ramping up our activities."

As environmentalists in the U.S. and around the world are urgently pressuring political leaders to make the existential threat of the climate crisis their top priority, Canadian election officials warned the nation's green groups that running advertisements that so much as acknowledge the reality of the planetary emergency could be illegal.

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