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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

CRISPR, the precision gene-editing technology researchers hope can be used to treat genetic illnesses, may be ineffective or even dangerous for a large subset of humans, according to STAT news. A new paper reports many people may be immune to the two most commonly used types of CRISPR. However, some scientists told STAT it may be possible to work around this problem.

Why it matters: We're moving closer to using CRISPR in human trials, but if the results of this paper are confirmed (it hasn't been peer reviewed yet) it's possible the treatment could be stopped by the immune system, or worse, trigger a dangerous inflammatory immune response.

The background: CRISPR is a suite of genes that bacteria use as an immune system to fight viruses. The genes can cut and splice parts of a bacteria's genome — and, in the lab, human genomes. Other parts of the CRISPR suite might be used to edit RNA, create cellular recorders, diagnose diseases or to kill bacteria without antibiotics.

What they found: Since CRISPR comes from bacteria, it makes sense that our body's immune systems would recognize and attack it, and the bacteria we've taken CRISPR from are some of the most common ones humans encounter.

  • 65% of people have immune proteins for the CRISPR Cas9 genome that comes from the bacteria Staphylococcus pyogenes (strep throat), and 75% are immune to CRISPR that comes from Staphylococcus aureus (staph infections), the two most common types of CRISPR.
  • Immune cells in about half of the people studied targeted CRISPR from S. aureus. It's unknown if other parts of the CRISPR suite besides Cas9 would be affected.

Yes, but this doesn't spell the end of CRISPR. "“At the end of the day, I’m not that concerned about it,” Daniel Anderson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells STAT. “But we want to do some experiments to learn more.”

There are workarounds: Currently, many CRISPR proposals involve editing a person's cells outside of the body, and then adding the cells back in, thus circumventing the immune system. It's possible that other CRISPR proteins won't be detected by the human body.

Proceed with caution: Study author Matthew Porteus of Stanford told STAT the field can't afford a death, noting the 1999 death of a man in a gene therapy trial, who was thought to have died from an immune response. "I would hate to see the field have a major setback because we didn’t address this potential issue,” Porteus said.

Go deeper

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to form team to solve consulate dispute

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meet in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by then President Donald Trump in 2019. Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.

Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to Parkland school shooting

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the defense table during jury selection at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo: Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday pleaded guilty on all counts for carrying out the 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, including 14 students and three staff members.

Driving the news: Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty at a hearing on Wednesday to 17 murder counts and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for carrying out the deadly shooting.

4 hours ago - Health

White House unveils plan to "quickly" vaccinate kids ages 5-11

Charles Muro, 13, is inoculated at Hartford Healthcare's mass vaccination center at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Conn. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday released its plan to vaccinate children between the ages of five and 11, pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration of the first COVID-19 shot for that age group.

The big picture: The White House said it has secured enough vaccine supply to equip more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of school and community health clinics, as well as tens of thousands of pharmacies, to administer the shots.