After the Nobel, what next for Crispr gene-editing therapies?
Hailed as the ‘molecular scissors’ that will allow us to rewrite our genes, the DNA tool is being trialled in treatments for everything from sickle-cell anaemia to cancer
When last year’s Nobel prize for chemistry was awarded to biochemist Jennifer Doudna and microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier for their work in developing the technique of gene editing known as Crispr-Cas9 (pronounced “crisper”), headlines hailed their discovery as “molecular scissors” that would allow us to “rewrite the book of life” – with all the complicated ethical questions that ability raises. But much of the excitement has nothing to do with visions of designer babies. The real promise of Crispr is for treating diseases caused by genetic mutations, from muscular dystrophy to congenital blindness, and even some cancers.
The first human trials of Crispr therapies are happening already, and researchers hope that they are on the brink of reaching the clinic. “The speed at which Crispr research has progressed has been truly astonishing,” says Doudna from the University of California at Berkeley.