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Posted on March 30, 2017 by  & 

Looking beyond the debate of who 'owns' CRISPR gene editing technology

CRISPR in the news

If you are hip to current events that impact the biotech world, then you have surely heard about the patent controversy over CRISPR gene editing technology. To give a brief overview: two scientists, Feng Zhang, PhD, from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University in Cambridge and Jennifer Doudna, PhD, from the University of California, Berkeley have been in a heated patent dispute since 2012 over who 'owns' the rights to CRISPR-Cas9. Dr. Dounda filed a patent in early 2012 when she led a research team that used CRISPR-Cas9 to alter specific stretches of bacterial DNA. Later that year Dr. Zhang filed a claim to the patent when he demonstrated that CRISPR-Cas9 can be used on eukaryotic, like those found in humans. In 2014 Dr. Zhang was awarded rights to CRISPR-Cas9, Berkeley retaliated by filing a case to the patent office to investigate interference. Finally, on February 15, 2017 Dr. Zhang and his team succeeded in obtaining the patent. Essentially this patent dispute resulted in the US Patent and Trademark Office deciding that Berkeley has their patent and MIT has their own patent.

What is CRISPR

This controversial dispute over who 'owns 'the rights to CRISPR genetic editing technology has made one thing crystal clear, CRISPR gene editing technology is a valuable scientific invention that deserves close examination regarding its potential impact on the science community. So, you may ask, what exactly is CRISPR? CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, these repeats are segments of prokaryotic DNA. Between each repeat are short segments of spacer DNA that have been exposed to foreign DNA. Located next to the CRISPR sequences are small clusters of cas genes. Together, CRISPR/Cas works as an immune system in prokaryotic cells that confers resistance to foreign genetic elements. More recently, the CRISPR/Cas system has been genetically modified to edit genomes. The modified version is termed CRISPR-Cas9. CRISPR-Cas9 works via the delivering of a Cas9 nuclease complexed with a synthetic guide RNA, this allows the cells genome to be cut at any desired location-existing genes can removed, new genes can be added or the combination of both events can occur.

Genome editing

While CRISPR-Cas9 is hardly the first ever scientific discovery that can edit the genome. It is however to present date the most efficient, inexpensive and user friendly genome editing technology. Genome editing is accomplished with the use of engineered nucleases that can cut an organisms DNA. Such sites are genetically altered and then repaired by homologous recombination or non-homologous end joining. Early pioneered gene editing technologies were the use of Zinc Fingers, TAL effectors and TALEN. CRISPR-Cas9 has proved to triumph over these novice inventions, it was heralded as Science's 2015 "breakthrough of the year" discovery.

Research/ potentials of CRISPR gene editing technology

In the research community CRISPR-Cas9 has caught a lot of attention from scientist. As a research tool, CRISPR-Cas9 would allow scientist to make changes to genes and then study the effects such genetic modifications have on gene regulation, potential giving us greater insight in genetic disorders. Additionally, CRISPR-Cas9's has shown great potential to be used as a therapy in human somatic cells. Such an example is in the field of gene therapy, cells could be taken from a patient and CRISPR-Cas9's could be used to edit the faulty genes. Even with this, the use of CRISPR-Cas 9 in hospitals and clinics is years away. What can be said is that CRISPR-Cas9 is a powerful innovation that will have an unprecedented impact on the scientific research and clinical community. CRISPR-Cas9 in years to come will change our understanding of disease mechanisms as well as provide us with a powerful tool to precisely and efficiently target diseases.
Top image: Origene

Authored By:

Technology Analyst

Posted on: March 30, 2017

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