Time Magazine named U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump its 2016 Person of the Year, but amongst the runners-up are the scientists who identified the mechanisms and developed the technique of gene editing using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), as well as those who are attempting to find direct applications in human health.
The implications are significant for the treatment of diseases with genetic components. If gene sequences can be altered, they can also be corrected to eliminate the risk of illnesses such as cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s Disease. They can also be used in the treatment of certain cancers. The technique is all the more revolutionary because it is cheap, very accurate, and easy to use.
While many of the scientists involved in these discoveries co-signed a letter urging caution in the use of CRISPR, wary as they are of genome modifications that could be passed on to offspring, this new technology also offers a lot of hope for many diseases that have not yet found a cure.
Jennifer Doudna, of the University of California at Berkeley, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute, developed a way to simplify this technology and apply it to all kinds of DNA. Feng Zhang, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, showed it was possible to use it on human DNA. Carl June, of the University of Pennsylvania, is now attempting to harness CRISPR to treat cancer.
Congratulations to all of them.