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Researchers Block Cocaine Craving and Addiction With a Special Skin Graft

The devastating cravings that cocaine addiction brings on may have met their match in the form of a genetically engineered skin patch that can be grafted onto the skin of an addicted individual. Researchers in the Ming Xu Lab at University of Chicago announced that they utilized something called CRISPR technology to produce an enzyme that’s present in the human liver and blood and incorporate it into lab-generated skin cells.

The enzyme in its natural state metabolizes cocaine into an inactive state, The Conversation explains — and it’s this component the researchers hope they can transfer to addicts wanting help. In lab mice, the technique worked, even when the animals were given lethal doses of cocaine, almost as if they’d been “immunized against a cocaine overdose.” Researchers said they need to study this more to see if it will work in humans, and if it does, they hope it might also be useful in curbing alcohol and nicotine addiction.

CRISPR gene-editing technology has taken the medical world by storm with all the exciting promises and potential for treating diseases ranging from cancer to Type 2 diabetes to, now, drug addiction. It sounds like the dream mankind has been waiting for since the beginning of time. But is it really? Is CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat) the wonder process that they claim?

Before you hang your hat up on this and declare that, thanks to CRISPR, the war on whatever ails you will soon be over, perhaps you should know that, in real life, CRISPR technology isn’t everything its researchers would like you to think. Yes, it has some promising and exciting findings, but it also has a down side. For example, they have found that this CRISPR gene editing can also trigger cancer.

In fact, two recent studies published in Nature Medicine come with some somber warnings that cells that are successfully edited by CRISPR have mutagenic carcinogenic potential, essentially turning them into ticking bombs. Specifically, mutations of this particular gene are thought to be responsible for:

  • 50 percent of ovarian cancers
  • 43 percent of colorectal cancers
  • 38 percent of lung cancers
  • 33 percent of pancreatic, stomach and liver cancers
  • 25 percent of breast cancers

In other words, until they can figure out how to edit out the cancer possibility, you may be just trading one affliction for another with this technology. They say all hope is not lost because it’s possible that these findings may be applicable only when you replace disease-causing DNA with a healthy DNA sequence, and not when you're just removing a piece of the DNA sequence, so CRISPR may still be useful in some instances.

Admittedly, it’s too soon to say what the long-term effects of gene-editing technology will be, and there are many variables to the safety equation. The findings may likely only apply to CRISPR-CAS9, which cuts through the DNA's double strand — but the point is, right now, they don’t know that for sure.

Other CRISPR technologies exist that may alter only a single strand or not involve cutting at all, instead swapping DNA letters. But still, the risks are real, and the dangers of tinkering with DNA will always be there.

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