By injecting a customized "genetic patch" into early stage fish embryos, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis were able to correct a genetic mutation so the embryos developed normally.
The research could lead to the prevention of up to one-fifth of birth defects in humans caused by genetic mutations, according to the authors.
Erik C. Madsen, first author and an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Washington University School of Medicine, made the groundbreaking discovery using a zebrafish model of Menkes disease, a rare, inherited disorder of copper metabolism caused by a mutation in the human version of the ATP7A gene. Zebrafish are vertebrates that develop similarly to humans, and their transparency allows researchers to observe embryonic development.
Children who have Menkes disease have seizures, extensive neurodegeneration in the gray matter of the brain, abnormal bone development and kinky, colorless hair. Most children with Menkes die before age 10, and treatment with copper is largely ineffective.
The research is published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences' advance online edition.
The development of organs in the fetus is nearly complete at a very early stage. By that time, the mutation causing Menkes disease has already affected brain and nerve development.
Madsen and Bryce Mendelsohn, also an M.D./Ph.D. student at the School of Medicine, wondered if they could prevent the Menkes-like disease in zebrafish by correcting genetic mutations that impair copper metabolism during the brief period in which organs develop. Both students work in the lab of Jonathan D. Gitlin, M.D., the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine and director of Genetics and Genomic Medicine at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
The researchers used zebrafish with two different mutations in the ATP7A gene, resulting in a disease in the fish that has many of the same characteristics of the human Menkes disease. Madsen designed a specific therapy to correct each mutation with morpholinos, synthetic molecules that modify gene expression. The zebrafish embryos were injected with the customized therapy during the critical window of development, and the researchers found that the zebrafish hatched and grew without any discernable defects.
"This method of copper delivery suggests that the prevention of the neurodegenerative features in Menkes disease in children may be possible with therapeutic interventions that correct the genetic defect within a specific developmental window," Madsen said.
The genetic mutations Madsen and the researchers worked with are caused by splicing defects, or an interruption in genetic code. The morpholinos prevent that interruption by patching over the defect so the gene can generate its normal product.
"Consider the genetic code as a book, and someone has put in random letters or gibberish in the middle of the book," Madsen said. "To be able to read the book, you have to ignore the gibberish. If we can make cells ignore the gibberish, or the splicing defect, the fetus can develop normally."
Up to 20 percent of genetic diseases are caused by splicing defects, Madsen said, so this treatment method could potentially be used for many other genetic diseases.
"The idea is that we can modify the treatment to target a specific mutation and design molecules to alter gene function in the same way the morpholino oligonucleotides can," Gitlin said.
The work is an important step toward personalized medicine, which can tailor treatment to an individual's genetic makeup.
"Eventually we would like to know each person's genome sequence so we know what mutations each person has that may lead to disease," Gitlin said. "That way, you don't get a drug for cancer that works against any kind of cancer, you get a drug for the specific mutation that causes your cancer. That's what personalized medicine is all about."
Beth Miller | EurekAlert!
Building a brain, cell by cell: Researchers make a mini neuron network (of two)
23.05.2018 | Institute of Industrial Science, The University of Tokyo
Research reveals how order first appears in liquid crystals
23.05.2018 | Brown University
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
A team led by Austrian experimental physicist Rainer Blatt has succeeded in characterizing the quantum entanglement of two spatially separated atoms by observing their light emission. This fundamental demonstration could lead to the development of highly sensitive optical gradiometers for the precise measurement of the gravitational field or the earth's magnetic field.
The age of quantum technology has long been heralded. Decades of research into the quantum world have led to the development of methods that make it possible...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
23.05.2018 | Life Sciences
23.05.2018 | Life Sciences
23.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy