Pulse 173: Nobel Prize in Chemistry to CRISPR Pioneers

13 October 2020
Giulio Prisco

Nobel Prize

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 to CRISPR pioneers Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna.

Charpentier and Doudna “have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors,” reads the Nobel announcement. The two scientists proved that these genetic scissors “could be controlled so that they can cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined site. Where the DNA is cut it is then easy to rewrite the code of life.”

“In medicine, clinical trials of new cancer therapies are underway, and the dream of being able to cure inherited diseases is about to come true. These genetic scissors have taken the life sciences into a new epoch and, in many ways, are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind.”

See our review of the 2017 book, A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, co-authored by Doudna.

"CRISPR gives us the power to radically and irreversibly alter the biosphere that we inhabit by providing a way to rewrite the very molecules of life any way we wish," is one of Doudna’s conclusions. "It won’t be long before CRISPR allows us to bend nature to our will in the way that humans have dreamed of since prehistory."

We avidly follow CRISPR news and regularly cover related research advances, and the first clinical experiments with live patients. My impression is that CRISPR technology is advancing very fast toward operational maturity, with frequent spectacular improvements in efficiency, effectiveness, safety, and cost. The big wave pictured by Doudna in the opening of her book is becoming an irresistible tsunami that will bring big change. BIG change.

“We're eight years into it and clearly still many advances happening in the field that are continuing to expand the capabilities of the CRISPR technology,” said Doudna in a recent interview. “So I don't see any end to that right away.”

CRISPR Technique Destroys Cancer Cells

Researchers at Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas (CNIO) have destroyed Ewing's sarcoma and chronic myeloid leukaemia cancer cells in laboratory mice.

The researchers used CRISPR gene editing to cut out the fusion genes that cause these cancers. Fusion genes are unique to cancer cells and therefore are excellent targets for the development of future drugs that only attack cancer cells.

A paper is published in Nature Communications. It describes how the researchers have used CRISPR to selectively and efficiently remove fusion genes.

Common Cold May Limit Damage from COVID-19

Scientists led by Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine have shown that the immunity built up from previous non-SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infections does not prevent individuals from getting COVID-19.

A study is published in Journal of Clinical Investigation. It indicates that a previous positive test result for a coronavirus did not prevent someone from getting infected with SARS-CoV-2.

But the study also indicates that people with evidence of a previous infection from a "common cold" coronavirus have less severe COVID-19 symptoms. The scientists hope that their findings will contribute to limiting the damage from COVID-19.

Regenerating Neurons in the Eye and the Brain

Researchers at University of Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins University, Ohio State University, and University of Florida, have identified genes that determine whether neurons will regenerate in certain animals, such as zebrafish.

A study is published in Science. It maps the genes of animals that have the ability to regenerate retinal neurons.

The researchers are persuaded that related research advances could one day enable regeneration of retinal neurons in people. And similar processes could regenerate neurons in the brain.

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