Clinical trials with gene-editing tools to start: Tang Prize laureate (Focus Taiwan)
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San Diego, April 21 (CNA) Chinese American biologist and 2016 Tang Prize winner in biopharmaceutical science Feng Zhang (張鋒) said Saturday that initial clinical trials using gene-editing technology to help people with genetic diseases are expected to start this year or next.

Zhang made the comment before delivering a keynote speech titled "Harnessing Nature's Diversity for Gene Editing and Beyond" at the opening of the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, southern California.

Zhang, 35, a pioneer of the revolutionary clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) gene-editing technology, TAL effector proteins, and optogenetics, said that his laboratory has been working on developing new gene-editing tools and applying them in microbial systems, including model- and non-model industrial microorganisms.

Many labs apply gene-editing tools for their research and some researchers have developed pharmaceuticals for genetic diseases by using the techniques.

The development of gene-editing tools has progressed rapidly, Zhang said, adding that many of the tools are for use in eukaryotic cells -- including human cells -- to examine the characteristics of many of the most common diseases from a genetic perspective.

Researchers are trying to improve the development of the tools to allow them to be operated more precisely and effectively and become a platform for the development of gene therapies for the treatment of a broad variety of severe monogenetic CNS (central nervous system) diseases.

Zhang's speech attracted an audience of around 6,000, according to the Tang Prize Foundation.

In addition, Zhang said the foundation is a successful organization that helps improve people's knowledge about science and the current developments in science to inspire them to pay greater attention to scientific research and investment. 

(By Edward Tsao and Evelyn Kao)