Tang Prize winners' research could help tackle disease: experts(Focus Taiwan)

  • Announcing the prize in Biopharmaceutical Science was former Academia Sinica President and 1986 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Yuan Tseh Lee.
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(Focus Taiwan)


Taipei, June 19 (CNA) The work of the Tang Prize winners in biopharmaceutical science has revolutionized the genome editing platform, making it programmable like never before, and could help tackle complicated human diseases, both scholars and Tang Prize Selection Committee members said on Sunday.

The CRISPR/Cas9 system, a unique genome editing technology developed by Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna and Feng Zhang (張鋒), has opened the doors to new therapies that could benefit humans, said Taipei Medical University President Yun Yen (閻雲).

The technology may be adapted to engineer human stem cells for disease modeling, drug screening and the identification of essential genes, tumor suppressors and regulators of cell differentiation, or genes sensitive to viral or pathogen infection, the committee said.

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, the committee said.

"It's like now we have scissors, a searchlight and a GPS system," Yen said, describing how precise and effective the genome editing tools are.

Previous applications of genome editing methods on mice used to take more than 18 months, with a low success rate, said Chang Wen-chang (張文昌), Academia Sinica academician.

With the new technology, however, the process could be dramatically shortened to a few weeks, with a success rate of over 80 percent, he said.

Asked if the new technology could potentially contradict medical ethics since it could alter the composition of genes, Taiwanese Nobel laureate and Committee Chairman Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) said he believed there will be proper regulations.

Said Yen: "Human beings can never replace God. We are just doing him a little favor."