AsianScientist (Jun. 21, 2016) – Thanks to the breakthrough discoveries of Drs. Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer A. Doudna and Zhang Feng, it is now possible to precisely and effectively modify individual genes or ‘edit’ out defective ones.
On June 19, the three scientists were announced as the winners of the 2016 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science, which recognizes original biopharmaceutical or biomedical research that has led to significant advances towards preventing, diagnosing and/or treating major human diseases to improve human health.
According to the citation, they were recognized for “the development of CRISPR/Cas9 as a breakthrough genome editing platform that promises to revolutionize biomedical research and disease treatment.”
As early as the 1980s, scientists had noticed clusters of repeated sequences in certain bacteria, which became known as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR).
It was later discovered that these repeats were part of a bacterial defense system. Small pieces of viral DNA, found in the spacers between the repeats, were ‘memorized’ in the bacterial genome to aid in recognition and defense against dangerous viruses. RNAs transcribed from CRISPR would help identify the threatening virus, and nucleases encoded by CRISPR-associated (Cas) genes would then be responsible for ‘cutting’ the virus, rendering it harmless.
Working independently from Charpentier and Doudna, Zhang first reported the successful adaption of Cas9-based genome editing in mammalian and human cells. He further improved approaches for simultaneously targeting multiple genes and homology-based gene repair. The technology may be further adapted to engineer human stem cells for disease modeling, drug screening and identification of essential genes, among other applications.
Founded in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur and philanthropist Samuel Yin, the Tang Prize awards achievements in four categories: Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law. Nomination and selection of laureates is conducted by Taiwan’s highest academic institution, the Academia Sinica.
The laureates will receive a medal, diploma and cash prize at the award ceremony on September 25 in Taipei. The three joint winners will share the cash prize of approximately US$1.24 million, as well as a grant of approximately US$311,000.
Source: Tang Prize.
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