Applications of CRISPR systems in respiratory health: Entering a new ‘red pen’ era in genome editing
Respiratory diseases, such as influenza infection, acute tracheal bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, lung cancer and nasopharyngeal carcinoma, continue to significantly impact human health. Diseases of the lung and respiratory tract are influenced by environmental conditions and socio-economic factors; however, many of these serious respiratory disorders are also rooted in genetic or epigenetic causes. Clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats (CRISPR) and CRISPR-associated (Cas) proteins, isolated from the immune system of prokaryotes, provide a tool to manipulate gene sequences and gene expression with significant implications for respiratory research. CRISPR/Cas systems allow preclinical modelling of causal factors involved in many respiratory diseases, providing new insights into their underlying mechanisms. CRISPR can also be used to screen for genes involved in respiratory processes, development and pathology, identifying novel disease drivers or drug targets. Finally, CRISPR/Cas systems can potentially correct genetic mutations and edit epigenetic marks that contribute to respiratory disorders, providing a form of personalized medicine that could be used in conjunction with other technologies such as stem cell reprogramming and transplantation. CRISPR gene editing is a young field of research, and concerns regarding its specificity, as well as the need for efficient and safe delivery methods, need to be addressed further. However, CRISPR/Cas systems represent a significant step forward for research and therapy in respiratory health, and it is likely we will see the breakthroughs generated from this technology continue.