Immune cells engineered with CRISPR to fight viruses

The experiment has already been conducted on mice: researchers have genetically engineered the immune cells to make the antibodies more efficient. Specifically, they helped the mice to fight a powerful lung virus, a strategy that could perhaps also help humans in all those diseases and illnesses for which no vaccine exists.

The study, conducted by immunologist Justin Taylor of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, is based on the use of the CRISPR system to engineer B cells to create an antibody known to be efficient against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

B lymphocytes are immune cells that release antibodies to the pathogen. Using CRISPR, researchers cut one of the antibody genes in the mouse’s B cells and transported them through a virus into the DNA. The genes then began to “churn out” antibodies to counteract RSV.

The same way could also be used for humans: stimulating B cells to create antibodies against particular viruses for which no vaccines exist, in particular HIV and certain types of influenza viruses.

“We hope that one day children will go to their pediatrician’s office to receive engineered B cells that emit the best-known antibodies to protect against most strains of certain viruses,” says Michael Goldberg, CEO of the STIMIT biotech startup in Cambridge, Massachusetts.