Science & Medicine

ASH 2014 – SNAPSHOT: Dr. Jennifer Doudna and CRISPR Cas9 Collaboration

CRISPRS (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats ) aren’t new. What’s new is what they can now do.

CRISPRs were discovered in 1987 by Japanese researchers  at Osaka University,  but understanding the function of repeat sequences in their DNA took some time. By 2007 it was established that those patterns are part of a bacteria’s immune system. Those spacers, or repeats in the bacterium’s DNA are bookends within which nonrepeating DNA code taken from an attacking virus is shelved. Synthesized RNA to match that code serves as the immune system’s navigation guide.Science 2012 Doudna  et all

Just two years ago, the genetic mechanism through which CRISPR Cas9  can edit the genome was revealed. Finding practical application came quicly.

Emmanuelle Charpentier’s lab in Umea, Sweden and Jennifer Duodna’s lab in Berkeley, California were both working on CRISPR.  Discovery of  a protein, an enzyme later named Cas9, unlocked the mystery. The protein, later called Cas9,  has the ability within the CRISPR system to disable a virus simply by cutting it.  Cas9 is the scissors attached to the RNA guidance system.

The story goes– possibly mythical —  that a bit of Polish vernacular was involved in bringing the system along.  Charpentier and Jennifer Duodna, a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and researcher at UC Berkeley.  met at an international conference. They became friends and then, shortly afterward, collaborators.   (They jointly authored the August 2012 paper in Science introducing the CRISPR Cas9 possibilities. ) One scientist in Duodna’s lab spoke the same dialect as a scientist in Charpentier’s lab and it was in the course of their chatting about research developments that the Cas9 application surfaced.

What isn’t mythical is Duodna’s determination to bring this genetic engineering technology into practical, therapeutic applications.  In the course of a brief MPNforum interview in her Berkeley offices during ASH 2014,  she said:

The way we can bring the CRISPR Cas 9  into the realm of238 clinical practice is by forging collaborations between people who are doing basic research  like myself and many others and people who are very knowledgeable about clinical aspects of disease. And one of the ways we are doing this here at UC Berkeley is we founded the Innovative Genomics Initiative. This is an academic initiative between UC Berkeley and  UCSF that aims to connect basic researchers with clinical labs as well as commercial labs and develop this genome engineering technology for specific type of applications.

We invite clinical labs to get in touch with us and discuss ways that we can work together.’ 

Jennifer Doudna, Professor of Chemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Investigator

On collaboration

“The best  science gets done when you have people working together. So we like to collaborate.  And also I think no lone lab can have all the expertise.

“We started the innovative genomic initiative funded by the Li Ka Shing Center. It’s academic, not for profit.  One of our goals is to have a more organized way of forging collaboration  The innovative Genomics Initiative is going to be a great opportunity to bring together collaborators both in academic labs and in companies.”

Dr. Jennifer Doudna with CRISPR Cas9 3D printer model on cell phone

Dr. Jennifer Doudna with CRISPR Cas9 3D printer model on cell phone


“This is what we want to do. We want to take basic science and make sure it helps patients. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Innovative Genomics Initiative  
University of California, Berkeley
188 Li Ka Shing Center Berkeley, CA 94720



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