Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What is Base Editing?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Base Editing

Mains level : Not Much

A teenage cancer patient suffering from T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL) has defeated her seemingly incurable cancer with the help of base editing technique.

Base Editing

  • Bases are the language of life. The four types of base – adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T) – are the building blocks of our genetic code.
  • Just as letters in the alphabet spell out words that carry meaning, the billions of bases in our DNA spell out the instruction manual for our body.
  • Base editing allows scientists to zoom to a precise part of the genetic code and then alter the molecular structure of just one base, converting it into another and changing the genetic instructions.
  • The large team of doctors and scientists used this tool to engineer a new type of T-cell that was capable of hunting down and killing cancerous T-cells.


What is T-Cell?

  • T (thymus) cells are type of white blood cell.
  • They are part of the immune system and develop from stem cells in the bone marrow.
  • They help protect the body from infection and may help fight cancer.
  • Also called T lymphocyte and thymocyte.

How base editing helped this teenage cancer patient?

  • Doctors started with healthy T-cells that came from a donor and set about modifying them.
  • The first base edit disabled the T-cells targeting mechanism so they would not assault patient’s body.
  • The second removed a chemical marking, called CD7, which is on all T-cells.
  • The third edit was an invisibility cloak that prevented the cells being killed by a chemotherapy drug.
  • The final stage of genetic modification instructed the T-cells to go hunting for anything with the CD7 marking on it so that it would destroy every T-cell in patient’s body – including the cancerous ones.
  • That’s why this marking has to be removed from the therapy – otherwise it would just destroy itself.
  • If the therapy works, the patient’s immune system – including T-cells – will be rebuilt with the second bone-marrow transplant.


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