Berlin, June 19 (CNA) French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, who was named a co-winner of the second Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science on Sunday for her work in the development of CRISPR/Cas9, said she hopes the genome editing technology can be used to treat currently incurable conditions.
"We always try to improve genetic tools, and we get to CRISPR/Cas9 really as a wish that the technology could be used as a direct gene medicine to treat severe human genetic disorders that cannot be cured at the present time," the 47-year-old microbiologist, who shared the prize with American geneticist Jennifer Doudna and bioengineer Feng Zhang, told CNA.
"The technology is very powerful. It really facilitates the manipulation of genomes in a wide range of cells and organisms," she said.
Charpentier is a world-leading expert in regulatory mechanisms underlying processes of infection and immunity in bacterial pathogens and is acknowledged as one of the key inventors of CRISPR/Cas9.
CRISPR/Cas9 is a unique genome editing technology that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome by cutting out, replacing or adding parts to the DNA sequence.
The technology, which allows scientists to target and mutate one or more genes in the genome of a cell of interest, has been touted as the simplest, most versatile and precise method of genetic manipulation currently available.
In 2015, Charpentier and Doudna were listed among Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, in the "pioneers" category.
In an introduction of CRISPR-Cas9 written for the magazine, American human geneticist Mary-Claire King said the technology, in theory, allows scientists to alter any human gene.
"This is a true breakthrough, the implications of which we are just beginning to imagine," she said.
She said CRISPR-Cas9 gives scientists the power to remove or add genetic material at will.
For example, geneticists have used this technology to cut HIV, to correct sickle-cell anemia and to alter cancer cells to make them more susceptible to chemotherapy, according to King.
Charpentier, who is currently director of the Department of Regulation in Infection Biology at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, was born in 1968 in Juvisy-sur-Orge in northern France.
She studied microbiology, biochemistry and genetics at the University Pierre and Marie University in Paris and obtained a doctorate degree in microbiology at the Pasteur Institute.
Before being appointed to her present position, she was head of various laboratories at universities in Sweden and Austria, including Umeå University and the University of Vienna.