Biopharmaceutical science Tang Prize winners thank others in field

The three laureates of the 2016 Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science said Sunday the award recognizes not only their personal endeavors but the work of many others in life sciences.

The prize was jointly awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna and Feng Zhang (??) for the development of a breakthrough CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing platform that promises to revolutionize biomedical research and disease treatment.

Expressing gratitude to the prize selection committee in their acceptance speeches, the trio also said they felt pumped about the great interest from the public in their research.

"This prize honors the work that has been done by so many to understand fundamental biology and explore where nature can take us," said Doudna.

"And in this case, it took us clearly in a very, very interesting and very unexpected direction," she said.

Added Charpentier: "I felt privileged to research in the fascinating world of microbes and pathogens and look forward to unravel further the secrets of their lives and therefore our lives."

The Cas9 system has already changed the way scientists do genetics and opened the floodgates for the discovery and development of new therapies that benefit human beings, according to the Tang Prize committee.

Examples of the applications include the repair of defective genes in a large number of heritable diseases, such as sickle cell anemia and the clearance of integrated genomes of cells chronically infected by viruses such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

Charpentier, a French microbiologist, first identified that there are two RNA species, which guide Cas9, a DNA cleaning enzyme, to the target DNA.

Doudna, a RNA Structural biologist from the United States, demonstrated in collaboration with Charpentier that the two RNAs can be linked together to become a programmable single guide RNA to target the DNA of interest.

Their work significantly simplified the experimental procedures and made efficient genome editing possible, the committee said.

Meanwhile, working independently, Zhang first reported the successful adaptation of Cas9-based genome editing in mammalian and human cells, and further improved approaches for the simultaneous targeting for multiple genes.

Receiving the prize, however, does not mean that the scientists' work is completed. On the contrary, they said they expect to explore even more in the future.

"This prize really recognizes so many people's contribution," said Zhang. "We are really excited to continue and try to push this technology to a stage where we can actually treat and improve human health."

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel