Los Angeles, June 18 (CNA) American geneticist Jennifer Doudna, one of this year's three recipients of the Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science, said the most enjoyable aspect of her work has been tackling the challenges in her laboratory experiments.
Laboratory work is not easy and, in fact, about 90 percent of the experiments do not work, said Doudna, a professor of chemistry and molecular biology at University of California, Berkeley.
Doudna said that because of the high rate of failure in the lab, she and her team usually have to adjust their thinking and strategies in order to come up with something that produces meaningful data.
"But I enjoy that process of struggle," she said. "That's something I still find to be the most fun about my job."
Growing up in Hawaii, Doudna said she loved math, chemistry and biology.
At that time, some people would tell her "girls can't do science," but that did not stop her from pursuing her interest in scientific research, said Doudna, 52.
"I'm the kind of person that if I'm told that something can't be done, I'm kind of stubborn and I think to myself I'm gonna figure out how to do it," she said. "So when I was told that girls don't do science, I thought, well, this girl is gonna do science."
Despite Doudna's determination, however, it was not all smooth sailing.
When she was studying for her bachelor's degree at Pomona College, she found herself struggling with her general chemistry class at one point and she began having doubts about her own ability and desire to continue on a science track, she recalled.
But with the encouragement of her professors, Doudna said, she persisted and eventually developed a passion for working in research labs.
Doudna won the 2016 Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science, along with two other people, for "the development of CRISPR-Cas9 as a breakthrough genome editing platform that promises to revolutionize biomedical research and disease treatment."
"I am delighted to be receiving the Tang Prize," Doudna said in a recent interview with CNA. "It's an incredible honor for me to have this opportunity."
She said the award represented recognition of the work of a large number of people, especially students and post-doctorates who have worked with her in her lab.
The other two winners of this year's Tang Prize for biopharmaceutical science are French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin and Chinese-American synthetic biologist Feng Zhang (張鋒) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.
Doudna and Charpentier are credited with creating a new technology for gene-editing, called CRISPR-Cas9, which enables scientists to remove or add genetic material at will. Zhang, meanwhile, has made his mark by showing how CRISPR-Cas9 edits genes in human and mouse cells.
CRISPR stands for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats." Part of the CRISPR system is a protein called Cas-9, which is able to seek out, cut and eventually degrade viral DNA in a specific way, according to Doudna.
"It can be used to make precise changes to the DNA sequence in cells," she said.
The technique could help cure genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia and muscular dystrophy by correcting the sequence of DNA that would otherwise cause such diseases, said Doudna, also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
She is scheduled to attend the Tang Prize ceremony Sept. 25 in Taipei, adding another honor to her list of awards.
Earlier this year, Doudna, Charpentier and Zhang won the Canada Gairdner International Award.
In 2015, Doudna and Charpentier were listed among Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, based on their development of the CRISPR-Cas9 technique.