Jennifer A. Doudna, PhD, the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences and professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the inaugural Kimberly Prize in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics Lecture to Feinberg faculty, staff, fellows and students in a full Hughes Auditorium on Tuesday, April 4.
Doudna, who is also an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is the inaugural recipient of the Kimberly Prize for her fundamental biochemical research providing molecular insight into the function of CRISPR/Cas9 systems as tools for genome editing and the application of her work to science and medicine.
In 2020, Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for co-developing CRISPR-mediated genome editing.
“The Kimberly Prize in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics is recognizing and honoring Jennifer for her ongoing work and further development of the CRISPR/Cas system, her work and development of the Innovative Genomics Institute that she has created at Berkeley, and her work from her lab and the work that she’s doing with pharma,” said Ali Shilatifard, PhD, the Robert Francis Furchgott Professor and chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and director of the Simpson Querrey Institute for Epigenetics.
During her lecture, Doudna gave an overview of the last decade of CRISPR discoveries and developments, sharing her excitement about how far the technology has come and its widespread adoption in science and medicine.
“It is powerful technology. Over the last decade or so, it’s been developed for not only disrupting genes or replacing genes, but also for controlling transcription. That means controlling the output of genes, diagnosing the presence of different kinds of nucleic acids like RNA and DNA, including during the pandemic when CRISPR was developed in a number of groups for detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and for molecular imaging,” Doudna said.
She also discussed how ensuring both the delivery and precision of editing is essential to the future of in vivo genome editing.
“How do we actually make sure these editing molecules get into the cells where we need them to do their job. It’s one thing if we’re doing that in the laboratory…but it’s pretty different if we’re thinking about trying to do it in a person’s body. CRISPR has tremendous potential to be a one-and-done type of therapy if this challenge can be met,” Doudna said.
“The second challenge then, of course, is once they get there, we need the editing to be precise. We need the editing to be accurate and we don’t want CRISPR doing something or causing a change in the DNA that might cause problems,” Doudna said.
In addition to delivering the inaugural Kimberly Prize lecture, Doudna had the opportunity to speak with current Feinberg students and postdoctoral fellows during a meet-and-greet lunch earlier that afternoon.
“It was really a great conversation and really gives me hope for the future to know that all of you are so on fire about the work that you’re doing and just going after it with such passion,” Doudna said.
The Kimberly Prize in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, given by Kimberly Querrey in honor of her late husband, Lou Simpson, is awarded every year to a scientist who has made outstanding research contributions into the molecular basis of life with a direct demonstrated link of their discovery into clinic for the betterment of humankind.
Prize recipients are nominated and reviewed by the dean of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the director of Simpson Querrey Institute for Epigenetics and other luminaries. The annual prize of $250,000 is given by the Simpson Querrey Institute for Epigenetics and administered by the Feinberg School of Medicine.
“We are building a program here at Northwestern University that is 100 percent supportive of doing innovative, cutting-edge science, and we are recognizing nationally and internationally individuals who contribute to that process,” Shilatifard said. “Kimberly and Lou have been great friends in supporting this extraordinary and essential mission of the University.”