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HKUST Scientists Develop Genome-Editing Tech Strategy

Image Credits: HKUST, Press Release

An international research team led by scientists from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has developed a novel strategy using brain-wide genome-editing technology that can reduce Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathologies in genetically modified AD mouse models. This advanced technology offers immense potential to be translated as a novel long-acting therapeutic treatment for AD patients.

In China alone, over 500,000 patients are estimated to be living with a hereditary form of AD – familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD), which is a congenital form of AD highly associated with family history. Although FAD has a clear genetic cause and can be diagnosed before cognitive problems occur, no effective treatment currently exists.

There is enormous potential in the use of genome-editing technology as therapeutic strategies for diseases caused by inherited mutations, such as FAD. It is especially useful for correcting disease-causing genetic mutations before symptoms appear, for which it is considered a “once-and-for-all” treatment as its effects can last a lifetime.

However, several hurdles have prevented its clinical development and application – most notably the lack of an effective, efficient, and non-invasive means to deliver genome-editing agents into the brain. Furthermore, existing genome-editing technologies are unable to generate beneficial outcomes throughout the whole brain.

Recently, a team led by Prof. Nancy Ip, Vice-President for Research and Development at HKUST, developed a new genome-editing system that not only crosses the blood-brain barrier but also delivers an optimized genome-editing tool to the entire brain.

Using a newly engineered delivery vehicle for genome editing, this strategy achieves efficient brain-wide genome editing through a single non-invasive intravenous administration. This effectively disrupts FAD-inflicted mutations in AD mouse models and ameliorates AD pathologies throughout the entire brain, paving the way to novel therapeutic development for the disease.

Meanwhile, the research team also found in the mouse models that the level of amyloid, a protein thought to drive neurodegeneration in AD, remained low for 6 months post-treatment (about 1/3 of their normal lifespan), demonstrating that this single-shot genome-editing strategy has lasting effects. More importantly, no side effects were detected so far in the mice.

Prof. Ip, who is also the Morningside Professor of Life Science and Director of the State Key Laboratory of Molecular Neuroscience at HKUST stated that as the first demonstration of efficient brain-wide genome editing to alleviate Alzheimer’s disease pathology throughout the whole brain, this is an exciting development.

The team’s work is an important milestone for the use of genome editing in treating hereditary brain diseases and contributes to the development of precision medicine for inherited forms of neurodegenerative diseases.

This research was a collaborative effort among scientists from HKUST; the California Institute of Technology; and the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The results were recently published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Recent research shows that the Global Alzheimer’s Therapeutics Market is projected to reach US$13.57 billion by 2027 from US$7.42 billion in 2019 with a substantial CAGR of 9.2% through the forecast period. This can be primarily attributed to the increasing pipeline drug development, rise in investments for drug development biomarkers that are expected to boost the global market growth.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes cognitive decline and memory loss. There is a steady decline in cognitive ability, social and behavioural skills due to atrophy of the brain. It is the most usual cause of dementia. AD also imposes a severe emotional and financial challenge to the patient’s family and society.

The disease is complicated, and so is the pathophysiology. Some studies have demonstrated the need to develop an efficient AD treatment, considering the rising cases worldwide. This disease has been studied for over a century, but the only drugs currently in use are memantine and acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. These drugs alone provide significant improvement alone but do less to change the process of the disease.

Increasing advanced early detection diagnosis, specific drug discovery, and novel diagnostic techniques are some factors responsible for market growth based on statistics.

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