Cases of obesity have been steadily increasing worldwide, especially during the pandemic. Lack of physical activity through more office-based jobs, plus a lack of access to fresh healthy food means more and more people are experiencing obesity. Having too much fat on your body can be extremely dangerous for your health, with obesity being linked to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, strokes, and gallbladder disease.
Targeting fat related genes
Targeting fat cells to eradicate them has been challenging for scientists because their hard to reach position in the body is difficult for medication to reach. Plus, because they have no surface receptors which makes it impossible to specifically target them using previous methods. A research group at the University of Michigan, has luckily made a breakthrough that may be just the answer needed to solve this crisis using CRISPR-Cas9.
The study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, discloses their method to target genes that regulate fat content in the body, such as UCP1. Using CRISPR-Cas9, these genes in mice were successfully edited and removed to reduce harmful fat tissue in these animals. They found that the mice could function fine without this gene’s activity, and the fat it brings with it, as their bodies adapted to help regulate temperature using alternative pathways very quickly.
What is CRISPR-Cas9?
The best way to imagine how CRISPR-Cas9 works is to imagine it as a genetic Swiss Army Knife, a multifunctional tool kit that depending on the job you want to carry out can do a number of tasks. In this experiment, scientists just wanted to remove the gene in focus. Although, in other cases a gene can be added and swapped also. Pretty cool hey!
So it can very specifically target the gene desired, researchers modify the system with a guide sequence of genetic material. When it is bound to the UCP1 gene, the Cas9 protein makes an incision at the site. Cutting like a pair of molecular scissors to remove the targeted gene. The DNA then repairs the cuts back together and voilà, the fat related gene is no longer present in the genome.
Why is this discovery important?
Before the invention of CRISPR-Cas9, achieving something like this in mice would have taken substantially longer and cost much more money. Therefore, this technique allows scientists to study the genetic factors behind obesity in a much more accessible way.
Once we are certain in our understanding of how removing these genes may impact the body, this treatment could be used to cure obesity in humans. Clinical trials for a number of diseases using this gene editing system are currently underway. These include treating sickle cell anemia and different types of cancers, just to name a few.
Source study: Journal of Biological Chemistry – BAd-CRISPR: Inducible gene knockout in interscapular brown adipose tissue of adult mice