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Sickle-Cell Patients See Hope in CRISPR

Sickle-cell disease is one of the most common genetic disorders, affecting millions of people around the world. It’s caused by a mutation in a gene known as HBB, which makes hemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen throughout the body. Blood cells with healthy hemoglobin are red and disc-shaped. Cells with abnormal hemoglobin are shaped like sickles used to cut wheat, the characteristic that gives the disease its name.

CRISPR Therapeutics is one of a handful of gene-editing startups pursuing new treatments for sickle-cell. The company’s approach involves isolating stem cells from samples of patients’ blood. Scientists would use CRISPR to activate a genetic switch that would raise the levels of a fetal form of hemoglobin in red blood cells, turning them healthy. This fetal hemoglobin effectively counteracts the effects of the sickle mutation. The modified cells would then be infused back into the patients.


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