CRISPR Pills Could Replace Antibiotics

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In medical terms, the CRISPR isn’t that drawer in the bottom of the refrigerator where you store apples.

The CRISPR is a gene-editing miracle born of science several years back. Doctors have determined that if they can get the CRISPR technology into pill form, a person with a stomach bug could swallow the gene-editing mechanism and cause bacteria to self-destruct by making lethal cuts to its own DNA.

Clostridium difficile (C. diff.), is a bacterium that causes deadly diarrhea. Credit: CDC/Lois S. Wiggs Photo, Janice Carr/Wikimedia Commons

The concept is the brainchild of microbiologist Jan Peter van Pijkeren of University of Wisconsin-Madison. He plans to load the CRISPRs into probiotics, which could treat a deadly form of diarrhea known as C. difficile, which can sweep through nursing homes and leave empty beds in its path.

“In an ironic twist of fate, C. diff. often colonizes the gut after antibiotics wipe out the microbial communities that normally keep it at bay,” University of Wisconsin-Madison reports in a news release. “Infections often happen in hospitals where antibiotics are administered and are becoming more common.”

Related: Gene-Editing Injection Could Permanently Lower Cholesterol Levels

This is only causing the antibiotics to become less effective, on top of already having a compounding negative side effect for treatment of C. diff. As long as we house patients together in a hospital or in a nursing home and we give a lot of them antibiotics we’re going to have a problem with C. difficile,” Herbert DuPont, Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas, told MIT Technology Review.

“The downside of antibiotics is they are a sledgehammer and depletes and destroys the gut microbial community,” Van Pijkeren says in the UW-Madison news release. “You want to instead use a scalpel in order to specifically eradicate the microbe of interest.”

Van Pijkeren’s plan is to use L. reuteri, a common probiotic bacterium, as that scalpel. “His team was able to amplify the natural ability of their strain of the bacterium, originally isolated from human breast milk, to survive its trip through the gut by 100-fold.”

Why the need for such hardiness? It makes the microbe “an attractive candidate to deliver antibiotic-free treatments past the harsh environment of the stomach to the intestines where C. diff. resides.”

Van Pijkeren said he finds working with probiotics exciting. “I think it’s pretty fascinating that an organism like Lactobacillus in such low numbers and small amounts can actually have a health benefit,” van Pijkeren said. “To then exploit these microbes to deliver therapeutics is very appealing because we know humans have been safely consuming them thousands of years.”

Related: Antibiotics Given to Newborns Could Cause Behavioral Problems

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”