Researchers share the recipe for a cheap, simple and effective method for gene editing – University of Copenhagen

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17 February 2017

Researchers share the recipe for a cheap, simple and effective method for gene editing

Gene editing

Two Danish researchers from the University of Copenhagen have just published an article in which they describe a breakthrough in combining two methods using CRISPR technology. The methods make it possible for research to optimise the workflows that are crucial for patients nowadays benefiting from the technology.

In recent years, gene editing - that is making specific changes in genes - has been developing rapidly. One of the most talked about ways of modifying genes is to use CRISPR technology, also known as genetic scissors. A new study from SUND at the University of Copenhagen gives a detailed description of how the two methods can be linked in CRISPR to create much better workflow and save both time and money.

And time is a crucial factor when gene-edited cells are to be used in treating humans. Before they can be used in a patient's body, they have to be thoroughly checked so the researchers can be sure that the genes have been modified as intended. This process currently takes up to five days, meaning that cells are too old for reinsertion into a patient. With the new technique, the process takes only one day and that provides entirely new perspectives for enabling gene-edited cells to be reinserted into patients.

”Optimising our workflow means we can get results faster. For patients, it is even more important because the new method makes the process from the editing cells to treating people much easier,” says one of the lead personnel in the study, Associate Professor Eric Paul Bennett, Copenhagen Center for Glycomics at the University of Copenhagen.

However, treating humans is only a small part of the field in which the optimised process can be used, 95% of which will be research-related. Here it does not matter if cells get old but the newly developed workflow can make the process significantly easier for researchers, and so also enable them to make significant savings.

The researchers in the new study have optimised and combined two previously known gene-editing methods and adapted them for CRISPR technology. The first method, FACS, is a separation tool. Briefly, it is a way of identifying the cells that the genetic scissors have been used on. They do so by making the genetic scissors fluorescent. This is important because it is only possible to edit the cells that the genetic scissors have affected and FACS makes finding the cells concerned very rapid.

The FACS method does have its limitations, however. It does actually not say anything about whether the gene 'scissors'  have worked as Intended, that is whether they have actually edited the cells. And this is where the second method, IDAA, comes into the picture. IDAA is an analytical tool that can be used to analyse the effect of cells affected by the genetic scissors identified using FACS, reports the second lead author of the study, Prof. Morten Frödin of the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre, who is also one of the originators of the FACS method.

”The two techniques each represent progress in genetic research. We have combined the two methods in a joint workflow and in so doing, established ping-pong between them, using them alternately at every stage in the process. This makes reaching the target much faster and cheaper," he says.

The optimised workflow process is open to all researchers investigating how genes behave and can be freely used. Gene-editing as part of actually treating people some way off in the future according to researchers but in principle there is nothing to prevent this technique from being used on human cells.

The study - ”Genome editing using FACS enrichment of nuclease expressing cells and Indel Detection by Amplicon Analysis (IDAA)” - has just been published in Nature Protocols.

The models reveals how gene editing can be done quickly and efficiently using the researchers' process. Step 1) Cells are modified using CRISPR. Step 2) The (green) affected cells are isolated. Step 3) The affected cells are analysed using IDAA. Step 4) Fast, effective access to information on the edited cells

Lector Eric Paul Bennett, E-mail:, Telephone: +45 35 32 66 30
Professor Morten Frödin, E-mail:, Telephone: +45 35 32 56 54