Skip to main content

CRISPR gene editing creates cocaine-proof mice, aims to crack addiction puzzle

Gene editing has already given us malaria-resistant mosquitoes and heat-resistant cows. Now, researchers from the University of Chicago may have topped both of those feats with their latest creation: Cocaine-resistant mice. Using the CRISPR-based gene-editing platform to modify the DNA of skin cells, researchers Xiaoyang Wu and Ming Xu have been able not only to create mice that are less likely to seek out cocaine than their counterparts, but are also immune to cocaine overdoses that killed mice without the same CRISPR-edited cells.

The process builds on previous work involving a modified enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BCHE), which is capable of naturally breaking down cocaine very rapidly. Unfortunately, its short half-life makes it ineffective in a clinical scenario, since it disappears before it has any long-term impact on the body’s response to cocaine. BCHE cannot be administered orally, which makes it ill-suited for use as a potential treatment.

Wu and Xu have found a way around this by demonstrating that modified skin cells can secrete BCHE into the bloodstream over a long period of time. These skin cells can be applied in the form of a skin graft.

It is still early stages, but the work could have a profound impact on solving the problems caused by thousands of coked-up mice flooding the streets every Saturday night to throw crazy shapes on tiny dance floors, while talking rapidly about how freaking amazing cheese tastes.

Okay, so that’s not really what the researchers hope to solve. (I mean, if that was real, why would you want to stop it?) Instead, they believe their research could play a part in helping battle the effects of cocaine addiction in humans via a similar skin graft procedure.

“It will work, like in mice, by highly efficiently degrading cocaine as soon as it enters the blood circulation, so that little would reach the brain to produce consequences,” Wu told Digital Trends. “[As a result], drug naïve-subjects would not develop cocaine addiction, cocaine addicts would stop using cocaine, and there would be no cocaine-induced relapse in addicts.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
The CRISPR baby saga continues as China confirms second gene-edited pregnancy
china crispr human cancer trial gene editing ala cas9

China’s official Xinhua news agency has confirmed that a second woman has become pregnant as part of a controversial experiment to create the world’s first CRISPR genetically edited babies. The scientist responsible for the work has since been fired by the university he was working for, which claims he “illegally conducted the research in the pursuit of personal fame and gain.”

Researcher He Jiankui made waves last year when it was announced that he had overseen an experiment leading to the birth of twin girls, Lulu and Nana, who had undergone gene alterations. The aim of the project was to modify human embryos to eliminate a gene called CCR5, thought to be responsible for potentially fatal diseases including HIV, smallpox, and cholera. Data submitted as part of the trial indicated that genetic testing has been conducted on fetuses as old as six months, dating back as far as March 2017. In total, eight volunteer couples consisting of HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers signed up to the trial. One couple dropped out during proceedings.

Read more
CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice
mcgill crispr 90 percent breakthrough wr 6 8 17

CRISPR gene editing technologies offer some exciting possibilities for medicine, whether it’s helping to treat ALS, battling the spread of malaria, or potentially providing us with a limitless supply of transplant organs. But gene editing is controversial, too, as evidenced by the recent outcry concerning reports from China that babies had their DNA edited to potentially stop fatal diseases such as HIV, smallpox, and cholera.

That is one reason why a new piece of research from the University of California, San Francisco researchers is so potentially exciting. They have demonstrated how CRISPR therapies can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice. However, they achieved this long-lasting weight control without having to make one single edit to the mice’s genome. The resulting technique could potentially be applied to other types of genetic modification as well.

Read more
The best portable power stations
EcoFlow DELTA 2 on table at campsite for quick charging.

Affordable and efficient portable power is a necessity these days, keeping our electronic devices operational while on the go. But there are literally dozens of options to choose from, making it abundantly difficult to decide which mobile charging solution is best for you. We've sorted through countless portable power options and came up with six of the best portable power stations to keep your smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other gadgets functioning while living off the grid.
The best overall: Jackery Explorer 1000

Jackery has been a mainstay in the portable power market for several years, and today, the company continues to set the standard. With three AC outlets, two USB-A, and two USB-C plugs, you'll have plenty of options for keeping your gadgets charged.

Read more