Tag Archives: Doudna

What I Just Learned From a Discussion With Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna

Today I attended a fascinating discussion of the movie Human Nature, a documentary on CRISPR gene editing. Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna, the co-inventor of CRISPR, gave us her perspective on the technology. Author Walter Isaacson and the filmmaker, Adam Bolt, also gave valuable insights.

Isaacson framed the moment well, saying that CRISPR is part of the 3rd great scientific revolution. The first was in the first half of the 20th century, in physics. The 2nd, in information technology, consumed the second half of the century. And in the 21st century, the revolution is and will be in the life sciences.

Because CRISPR can make DNA and RNA programmable like computer code, there’s a strong parallel between CRISPR and the IT revolution. What if biology and medicine progressed the way software has in the last few decades?

Doudna is particularly excited about the applications of CRISPR to cure cancer. CRISPR can be used to program the patient’s immune cells to attack tumors. This echoes what the co-founders of BioNTech said earlier this week at a call I attended.

Bolt and Doudna also noted that CRISPR was a scientific backwater at first. This really emphasizes the importance of funding basic science with no clear application. We never know where it will lead!

The first patient to be treated for sickle cell anemia using CRISPR is doing quite well a year later. Doudna and others are hard at work on further applications of this technology. As an investor and as a human being, I am eagerly anticipating these breakthroughs.

“Jennifer Doudna” by Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

An Outstanding Science Movie and Your Chance to Talk to a Nobel Prize Winner

I just finished watching the superb documentary Human Nature, which details the origins and applications of CRISPR gene editing. The filmmakers interview all the leading people in the field and produce a fascinating and highly accessible narrative.

I found particularly striking how one of the co-inventors of CRISPR, Jennifer Doudna, enjoyed being in an unknown field at first but also wondered whether the field was neglected because it was a dead end. It shows us what we can accomplish when we overcome our self-doubt!

You can see the movie and attend a talk tomorrow at 1pm EST with Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna here, both free of charge. It’s not often a person gets the chance to ask questions of a Nobel prize winner. I’ll be there!

P.S. If you’re interested in CRISPR, I recommend this book.)

“Micah’s DNA” by micahb37 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

How We Can Rewrite Our Genetic Blueprint

We may soon be able to edit our own genes using a new technology called CRISPR. It uses a bacteria to change data in the genetic code and could one day cure rare genetic diseases. There is also potential in editing genes to prevent cancer and heart disease.

In the new excellent book Editing Humanity by Kevin Davies, we learn how the technology was developed and how it has been applied and misapplied. CRISPR has cured a patient of sickle cell disease already, but was also used inappropriately to sloppily modify the genes of several babies in China. It’s tool with enormous potential, but that includes potential for abuse.

I am intrigued to see if this tool could one day be used to reverse the DNA errors that come with aging.

As an investor, it struck me that Beam Therapeutics, a company founded by David Liu and Feng Zhang, two of the best scientists in the field, went public at a valuation of only $180 million. If CRISPR doesn’t revolutionize health, perhaps it’s worth zero. But what if it succeeds? It could be the most valuable company in history. Indeed, since this book came out in mid-2020, I see the share price has increased nearly fivefold.

I also think we would benefit greatly from increasing our investment as a society in basic research. I was surprised to learn that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute supports the lab of one of the co-inventors of CRISPR, Jennifer Doudna, at a rate of $1 million per year. While HHMI’s work is outstanding and to be commended, I imagine Doudna could use a lot more than that. What would she do with $10 or $100 million a year? Our government and we as individuals (through crowdfunding) could get it to her and other leading scientists. The benefits we could reap can only be imagined.

Davies’ book is entertaining, readable, and informative throughout. I’d highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in CRISPR, gene editing, or health in general!