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New app from ChristianaCare helps researchers track gene-editing mistakes with CRISPR

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Scientists at ChristianaCare have developed an app that can scan for potential mistakes caused by the cutting edge gene-editing technique known as CRISPR.

Research shows that when repairing a gene with CRISPR to correct mutations in conditions like sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis, the tool can sometimes make unintended changes to the area around the site of the repair.

“That can lead to unintended consequences, especially if you’re treating small children or people who will live long enough to see the consequences of those small changes,” said Kevin Bloh, Researcher Assistant at ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute and a Ph.D. candidate in medical and molecular sciences at the University of Delaware.

Bloh is lead author of a report released in The CRISPR Journal last week on a new app called DECODR, which stands for Deconvolution of Complex DNA Repair.

Bloh says the unintended changes CRISPR can cause to DNA are harmless in some cases, but the DECODR app can show researchers if the changes could potentially harm a patient. He says it does this by crunching DNA data to better expose the unintended mutations.

“You input the sequencing file containing your convoluted CRISPR-edited DNA, and the program will take that messy convoluted sequence and split it out into the individual subsequences that make it up,” said Bloh.       

The development of DECODR started with a young intern at the Gene Editing Institute named Rohan Kanchana in 2019. Kanchana helped develop the software that can analyze the huge volumes of DNA data a CRISPR edit produces.

DECODR is currently only used as a research tool. It’s being rolled out as part of the gene editing module used at Del Tech called CRISPR in a box. Bloh says it will soon be used in area high schools as well.

A free version of the app is available online, and The Gene Editing Institute is in discussions about licensing a commercial version as well.

Bloh says ChristianaCare is also in the process of submitting an application to the FDA to use CRISPR in clinical trials to treat lung cancer.

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