Emmanuelle Charpentier (1968, France) is one of the Favorites to receive one of the awards Nobel Prize in science is failing this Monday. In 2012, this microbiologist discovered along with American Jennifer Doudna that CRISPR/Cas9 – the immune system that some microbes are protected from viruses and that it was discovered by the Spanish Francis Mojica – could be re-used to edit the genome of any living being with ease.
in six years CRISPR has become ubiquitous in biomedical research. It has allowed curing deafness in mice, create clean retrovirus of pigs to transplant his organs to humans, eliminate populations of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes and cure some hereditary diseases in experimental treatments. In 2017, this technique was used in human embryos for the first time. The CRISPR was programmed to find a wrong DNA sequence within the genome of the embryo, cut using molecular scissors Cas9 and replace it with the correct version, which eliminated a congenital mutation that causes sudden death. The embryos were destroyed after the investigation, but the work showed that this tool can change the human germ cells to be transmitted from generation to generation. If this is possible, babies with improved physical and mental characteristics, you also could create a new factor of inequality between rich and poor.
Charpentier directs the Institute Max Planck for biology of infection, where new species of microbes in search of improved versions of the CRISPR that “expand Toolbox” genetic Edition investigates and which could, for example, help to stop the bacteria resistant to antibiotics that threaten to kill more people than cancer in a few decades. It is also co-founder and Advisor of CRISPR Therapeutics, a company that has begun a clinical trial this year to correct a mutation which causes one of the most common anemias and which forces to receive transfusions of lifetime.
visit to Madrid to receive the award with V’s life of the Spanish Association against Cancer, the microbiologist reflects in this interview about the potential of this technique and alert that Europe is being relegated in one of its most interesting uses .
discover the CRISPR deserves a Nobel question
. CRISPR applications in health have yet to the market what will be the first and how far will arrive?
response. there are many indirect benefits through scientific research. Thanks to CRISPR we can extract a patient’s cells to study the cause and development of his illness, identify new molecules that are essential for the spread of cancer and many other diseases, to develop better disease models to test new drugs on them, find new therapeutic targets in easiest way. Why CRISPR/Cas9 is a revolution in research. All these experiments were very difficult before the arrival of this technique.
p. do promising how look you first experimental trials in people?
R. This technique is already applied in cancer immunotherapy. Patient’s immune cells are taken, are genetically modified with CRISPR and then returning to transplant after all safety and quality controls so they can recognize and destroy tumor cells. This is already happening in clinical trials using CRISPR and other genetic editing techniques, as it is the case of CAR-T cells. It will take at least four or five years until we have definitive results and may be adopted for use. It is something that will come step by step. It is important because they can be more personalized and technologies without as many side effects such as radiation or chemotherapy.
P. what to change the genetics of CRISPR embryos, not only to cure diseases, but to improve the physical and mental characteristics of babies?
R. it is very appropriate to use CRISPR to research with human embryonic cells to study the early stages of development, but I am not in favour of using this technique to create human transformed or improved. We must be cautious even to apply this technique on embryos to cure diseases. Right now there is no justification to do this because there is the possibility of selecting embryos and discard those who take certain mutations.
it is important to be given to women scientists the opportunity to develop their careers without feeling pressured or underestimated
P. This year have been published studies that warn that the CRISPR can be rejected by the human immune system and lead to cancer is there cause for concern?
R. If you look at the CAR-T cells or the combination of cell therapy and genetic Edition with this CRISPR is not a problem, because the cells are modified in the laboratory and used once, the authoring tool disappears every cell and at the end of the process is verifies that the mutations have been made correctly. What causes more concern is when technology is directly injected into the patient. In this case still need long time until it is secure and also accurately, i.e. only the desired tissues are altered. Regarding the studies you mention, must say that CRISPR is a recipe that is being constantly improved and adapted to different genes, cells.
P. do you think that he will win the Nobel Prize?, should also receive it Francis Mojica, who discovered what is the CRISPR?
R. I would be surprised if the research work that is behind CRISPR/Cas9 is not recognized by the Nobel Committee at some point. The who receives the Prize depends on look like want to reward the Committee, how important think is the work of fundamental research, the first steps that led to the discovery. There are other more recent and early investigations. You are normally reward work that all pieces of the puzzle. I can not judge him and it is always difficult because three people can receive it. I trust that the Committee will give a Nobel for CRISPR/Cas9 because it is an excellent example of how basic research can be transformed into a technology that has an impact on many scientific fields.
P. according to a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, 50% of women scientists, both holders and students, say having suffered harassment of men do you have a similar perception?
R. in the world of science there is too much pressure. Some scientific heads develop personalities that go beyond the limits in terms of their relationships with colleagues and students. There are examples of harassment and suffer them more women than men. The important thing is to be given to women scientists the possibility of developing their careers without being underestimated or under pressure, especially when they decide to found a family. I see that these themes are present in the generations of younger scientists and that there are scientific men who decide to tipping over in your family life and then they realize that are criticized for it.
P. European justice just equate modified with CRISPR with transgenics organisms would run the risk of falling behind in these applications?
R. Yes. It is a very conservative and disappointing decision. Possibly research with plants is not affected, but Europe is going to be left behind in the development of new variants of crops for marketing. The decision nor helps the image that people have of transgenic plants or transgenic term in general. It seems to be a terrifying Word, but plants modified with CRISPR/Cas9 are safer and they need fewer pesticides or chemicals. It is a disappointment because it provides that people change their views on genetic technology that will be essential in the future.