New York, June 18 (CNA) Chinese American biologist Feng Zhang (張鋒), one of the three recipients of the Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science, said the prize was recognition for his entire lab for its research on the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing tool.
"The Tang Prize is a tremendous recognition for our work, for my entire lab. Also graduate students and post-docs in my lab," Zhang said.
"They worked hard over a number of years to make this technology what it is today," he said in an interview with CNA at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a genomics research center affiliated with MIT and Harvard.
He also said he has never been to Taiwan and was looking forward to visiting Taipei in September when the Tang Prize award ceremony will be held.
"I think it will be really great to see Taiwan but also to meet with the scientific community there and also to talk with them and exchange ideas," he said
Zhang, 34, the youngest head of a lab at the institute, shared the prize with Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute and Jennifer Doudna of the University of California at Berkeley.
The two female scientists are credited with achieving the key CRISPR breakthrough that enable researchers to edit parts of the genome. The technique grew out of their study of the self-defense mechanism used by bacteria to fight off and destroy viruses.
Zhang, on the other hand, made his mark by showing how the technology could be adapted to deal with disease by applying it to edit animal genomes and get it to work in human cells.
The trio was honored "for the development of CRISPR/Cas 9 as a breakthrough genome editing platform that promises to revolutionize biomedical research and disease treatment," the Tang Prize citation said.
"CRISPR, or genome editing, is a very powerful tool," Zhang said, adding that it can be used to "understand how genes work and how different kinds of genetic variations underlie disease."
The hope, Zhang said, is that "this understanding will lead to new treatments and maybe we can also develop CRISPR into a new treatment for genetic disorders," he said.
"CRISPR can also be used in other areas of biotechnology. In agriculture, it may be used to make better plants with higher yield and better drought resistance," Zhang said. "There are really many exciting possibilities."
But he also said researchers in the field still need to communicate with the scientific community and educate those outside about the technology and what kind of a technology it is.
CRISPR stands for "clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats," and Zhang began his research on the gene-editing tool in 2011 when he first heard about the technology.
Zhang and the two other winners of the category will share a cash prize of NT$40 million (US$1.23 million) and a research grant of up to NT$10 million to be used within five years, and will receive medals and certificates.
He said he would use the money to support his daughter's education.
The biennial Tang Prize was established by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin (尹衍樑) in 2012 to complement the Nobel Prize and to honor top researchers and leaders in four fields -- sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, Sinology, and the rule of law.