NYSCF – Robertson Investigator Feng Zhang Featured On 60 Minutes

NYSCF — Robertson Investigator and MIT professor Feng Zhang, PhD, was interviewed on CBS’s 60 Minutes about CRISPR, the gene editing technology he helped pioneer that is revolutionizing research.

“There are about 6,000 or more diseases that are caused by faulty genes. The hope is that we will be able to address most if not all of them,” Dr. Zhang explained after showing 60 Minutes host Bill Whitaker a small tube of liquid filled with billions of CRISPR molecules.

CRISPR is a tool that allows researchers to locate, delete, and edit stretches of DNA within our genes. Often deemed “the Swiss army knife of biotechnologies,” CRISPR can help us study the genetic basis of disease, diagnose it, and develop new treatments.

The segment also featured scientists who are using CRISPR to accelerate research in areas such as ophthalmology and embryonic gene therapy.

Dr. Kang Zhang of the University of California, San Diego is leveraging the power of CRISPR to develop treatments for retinitis pigmentosa—a genetic form of blindness. Using CRISPR, he corrects for the mutation leading to the disease in mice, in turn restoring their vision by up to 50%.

Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Director of the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health and Science University, is using CRISPR to amend genetic defects in human embryos. His lab takes sperm carrying a genetic disease, exposes the sperm to CRISPR to correct for their mutation, and then combines the sperm with an egg. The embryo is never implanted into a human, but it is incubated for a few days to make sure the mutation is gone. About 72% of the time, it is.

With all the excitement about CRISPR swirling around throughout academia as well as mainstream media, Dr. Zhang and Dr. Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, say it’s important to balance hope and hype.

“While it’s not going to affect somebody who might be dying of a disease today, this is going to have a real effect over the course of the next decade and couple of decades,” says Dr. Lander. “And for the next generation, I think it’ll be transformative.”

Watch the full segment here.

Diseases & Conditions:

Genomics & Gene Editing

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