Physicians treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic condition caused by inflammation, by injecting patients with drugs that can, over time, cause side effects from severe infections to liver damage to increased risk of some cancers.
At Washington University’s medical school, scientists took a new tack. They used Nobel-winning CRISPR technology (“New CRISPR Gene Editor Edits More Better,” 28 Sep 2021) to reprogram genes in mouse stem cells to make cartilage with a kicker: the cells also were programmed to make a biological compound that reduces inflammation and also to release the drug when the cells detected chemical signatures of inflammation happening nearby.
The engineered cells were coated onto a woven scaffold and embedded in the joints of mice that had been genetically programmed to develop RA.
The cells remained in place for months, releasing the anti-inflammatory compound only when signs of RA flared. On scans, the treatment showed that the technique prevented bone erosion, a signature damage caused by RA.
In contrast, conventional drugs typically are injected according to a schedule, bathing affected areas in chemicals that often are too strong for the need of the moment or too constant, causing nasty side effects.
The new technique also will allow researchers to program cells to produce other substances mimicking biological compounds. That would allow customized treatments, with cells implanted to produce specific compounds to which an individual patient’s body responds best.
TRENDPOST: CRISPR technology, stem cell engineering, and organic implants are combining to create a new way to treat chronic conditions and eventually will vastly reduce, and perhaps eliminate, medicine’s synthetic drug dependency, shotgun-style drug therapies, and the damaging side effects they often create.