Gene editing has already given us malaria-resistant mosquitoes and heat-resistant cows. Now, researchers from the University of Chicago may have topped both of those feats with their latest creation: Cocaine-resistant mice. Using the CRISPR-based gene-editing platform to modify the DNA of skin cells, researchers Xiaoyang Wu and Ming Xu have been able not only to create mice that are less likely to seek out cocaine than their counterparts, but are also immune to cocaine overdoses that killed mice without the same CRISPR-edited cells.
The process builds on previous work involving a modified enzyme called butyrylcholinesterase (BCHE), which is capable of naturally breaking down cocaine very rapidly. Unfortunately, its short half-life makes it ineffective in a clinical scenario, since it disappears before it has any long-term impact on the body’s response to cocaine. BCHE cannot be administered orally, which makes it ill-suited for use as a potential treatment.