Montgomery College’s Bioscience Education Center (BEC) is the place to be, to see and to hear from some of the brightest life science minds in BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR). Home to the region’s most important biotech workforce development and training programs, including; Bio-Trac, the graduate/post-graduate level program offering hands-on laboratory training workshops for research scientists, BioTrain, the incumbent worker upskilling program, and Montgomery College’s Biotech AAS and Biomanufacturing Certificate programs, the BEC has become an epicenter where industry, academia, and the workforce converge to share knowledge, build relationships and advance science. Recently Bio-Trac hosted a panel featuring key thought leaders on the topic of Gene Editing with CRISPR.
Dr. Serguei Kozlov, Principal Scientist/Team Leader at Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, moderated the panel, which was entitled “How CRISPR is Advancing Genomic Research and Molecular Science.” Kozlov is a key influencer in the field of CRISPR and is the Workshop Director for Bio-Trac’s Gene Editing with CRISPR and Advanced Gene Editing with CRISPR hands-on workshops.
The panel included an all-star team of genomic experts, including Dr. Jim Brady, Vice President, Technical Applications and Customer Support at MaxCyte; Dr. Tami Kingsbury, Leader, CRISPR Services, and Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine; Dr. Ji Luo, a Senior Investigator at the National Cancer Institute (NCI); and Dr. Donald Fink, Expert Biologist with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
CRISPR is a practical, powerful and versatile tool that lab researchers started to embrace about a decade ago to edit genomes and alter DNA. The technology allows genetic material to be added, “knocked out” (removed) or altered, ideally at particular targets in the genome and in a pre-designed way to meet researchers’ needs. CRISPR is one of the newest gene-editing tools that has risen to prominence and generated tremendous excitement across the last three years. CRISPR is an incredibly promising tool that, until last year, has been limited to laboratory use and animal models due to unknowns regarding its safety and efficacy for humans. In 2019 however, the University of Pennsylvania launched the first US clinical trial using CRISPR for cancer treatment, and at least a half dozen additional trials are being planned across the US, Canada, and Europe.
For those stricken with single-gene mutations like cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia or sickle cell disease, CRISPR offers hope for better and more durable treatments in the future. CRISPR also has promise for, heart disease, mental illness, and HIV, among other more genetically sophisticated illnesses, such as cancer and autoimmune maladies. CRISPR is a remarkably user-friendly, efficient and cost-effective gene-editing tool. While the tool is simple, the ramifications of its usage are complex, which is precisely what the CRISPR panelists had come to discuss with an audience of more than 100 curious panel attendees.
CRISPR has come a long way since its discovery in E-Coli in 1987 and represents an evolution from other more expensive, harder to use and less accurate gene-editing tools that emerged prior to CRISPR’s rise as a scientific research disruptive force.
“We use CRISPR technology to do functional analysis and interrogation of proteins, the mapping of proteins, the generation of mutations and CRISPR screening…CRISPR actually works and can work for anyone in this audience, with your own hands, it’s really that accessible. It has really opened up mammalian biology and we can now do true functional studies in mammalian cells. It’s really an exciting time for science. You can use it in many different ways all of which have their pros and cons,” Dr. Kingsbury shared.
MaxCyte’s Jim Brady concurred with Dr. Kingsbury’s view that CRISPR is an exciting technology and has wide-reaching applications: “I think we can call CRISPR-Cas9 disruptive from a number of different perspectives. First of all the breadth of applications is really impressive. You can treat intractable diseases like sickle cell but it is also used in agriculture to modify crops and livestock. It’s used in basic research. It’s also disruptive when compared to what’s been available in the past. What’s really impressed me about CRISPR is its higher efficacy, specificity, and ease-of-use. CRISPR’s versatility makes it a very disruptive technology.”
MaxCyte is a Maryland-based biotech company that has developed a proprietary technology for large scale cell engineering that allows researchers to introduce molecules into cells using Flow Electroporation. The company’s advanced ExPERT™ platform is used by leading companies like Kite Pharma, a Gilead Company, and CRISPR Therapeutics, among other major life science partner. Over the past few years, CRISPR-Cas9 delivery has been a hot area for many companies who are engineering cells by putting CRISPR-Cas9 into e.g. T Cells or stem cells to change a gene or introduce new genes. Brady works directly with MaxCyte partners to help them get the maximum benefit from the technology and the maximum efficiency of their gene-editing functions. He is literally on the front line when it comes to the CRISPR-Cas9’s adoption and clinical progress.
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