The immune system is one of the most complex aspects of human biology. In addition to protecting our body from bacterial and viral infections, it also helps regulate other aspects of our body to ensure things function correctly.
Research on the immune system has led to the development of important immunotherapies, for example, to help fight diseases like cancer. But there are still many unknowns, such as how immune cells function. To further our understanding of human immunology and the immune system, researchers have harnessed the power of CRISPR technology to study the function of immune cells.
In the past, CRISPR-Cas9 editing technology has been used to edit genomes (additions, deletion, etc.) to study how genetic changes affect the human body. According to a new study published in Science, researchers describe efforts to take CRISPR technology and use it to activate particular genes in immune cells, calling it CRISPR activation (CRISPRa). Doing so, researchers believe it could help shed more light on how different immune system cells function.
The research team focused specifically on T cells, a type of immune system cell that helps direct other parts of the immune system through the production of cytokines. However, all T cells create different kinds of cytokines. Manipulating these molecular signals, according to the research team, could help direct and shape the way the immune system responds and functions, opening a whole new world of medicine.
To better understand what controls the development of cytokines, researchers delivered CRISPRa technology to the cells in order to active/deactive nearly 20,000 genes and study the results. They identified a few hundred genes that seem to play a crucial role in cytokine development and regulation, including several that had never been identified before.
The research team noted several potential applications for their novel application of CRISPRa, including aiding in the development of CAR-T cell therapies, which use modified T cells to help fight cancer. Researchers speculate that CRISPRa technology could help identify ways to manipulate cytokine production and potentially improve the efficacy of these therapies.