Damon Runyon News

June 13, 2019

 




Former Damon Runyon Innovator

Feng Zhang, PhD, and CRISPR pioneer.



Since its development in 2013, CRISPR/Cas9 has been a game-changer in biomedical research. The gene editing technology has the potential to treat a number of diseases by replacing a disease-related gene with a healthy version. CRISPR pioneer, Former Damon Runyon Innovator Feng ZhangPhD, and colleagues at the Broad Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have found a new enzyme that can insert custom genes into DNA without first cutting it apart. This method could make gene editing more accurate and safer for future use in human cells. 


When researchers edit genes with current CRISPR technology, their systems chop a strand of DNA before inserting a new gene and allowing a cell’s natural healing mechanisms to patch the strand back up. This process is inefficient and error prone. One concern, for example, is that editing can alter DNA in places it isn’t supposed to and that these “off-target” effects could trigger side effects. Another concern is that although CRISPR can hunt down and cut out faulty DNA, it is harder to insert the right new genes. 


If CRISPR is to be used to safely treat patients some day, reserachers will have to understand how genetic changes affect cell function.The researchers developed their techniques in the E. coli bacterium. The next step is to ues the new form of CRISPR in plant and animal cells.