This year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded to Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier and Dr Jennifer Doudna for their discovery of nature’s “sharpest genetic scissors” – CRISPR – the tool that makes gene therapy possible. Gene therapy is an emerging key treatment for many conditions with an underlying genetic cause, including epilepsy.
The Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901 and are given annually for outstanding work in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics, and the promotion of peace. The Chair of Nobel Committee for Chemistry, Professor Claes Gustafsson, said of this years’ award, “There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all. This technology is a method that will lead to groundbreaking new medical treatments.” This also marks the very first time in history that a Nobel Prize has been shared between two women.
What is CRISPR/Cas9?
The discovery of this gene editing tool – known as CRISPR/Cas9 has revolutionised the life sciences and medicine. The tool is faster, cheaper and more accurate than previous techniques of editing DNA and has huge potential for a wide range of applications. Discovered in bacteria, CRISPR/Cas9 is a mechanism by which bacteria chop up the DNA of invading viruses– hence the tool adopting the title of the “sharpest genetic scissors”. Bacteria then integrate these chopped up virus DNA into sections of their genome (the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism). This process is known as CRISPR – Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. These “repeats” are then used to detect and destroy similar viruses by Cas9 in the future.