CRISPR technology to cure sickle cell disease at UIC

University of Illinois Chicago is one of the U.S. sites participating in clinical trials to cure severe red blood congenital diseases such as sickle cell anemia or Thalassemia by safely modifying the DNA of patients’ blood cells. 

The first cases treated with this approach were recently published in an article co-authored by Damiano Rondelli, MD, the Michael Reese Professor of Hematology at the UIC College of Medicine and member of the University of Illinois Cancer Center’s Translational Oncology program. The article reports two patients have been cured of beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease after their own genes were edited with CRISPR-Cas9 technology. The two researchers who invented this technology received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020.  

In the paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, CRISPR-Cas9 Gene Editing for Sickle Cell Disease and β-Thalassemia, researchers reported gene editing modified the DNA of stem cells by deleting the gene BCL11A, the gene responsible for suppressing fetal hemoglobin production. By doing so, stem cells start producing fetal hemoglobin so that patients with congenital hemoglobin defects (beta thalassemia or sickle cell disease) make enough fetal hemoglobin to overcome the effect of the defective hemoglobin that causes their disease. 

The work was cited by Science Magazine as one of the breakthroughs of the year for 2020.