UA researcher Francisco Mojica receives the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine
Alicante. Wednesday, 1 February 2017
University of Alicante researcher Francisco Martínez Mojica has received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Biomedicine category, shared, in this ninth edition, with Emmanuelle Charpentier, and Jennifer Doudna, whose pioneering work has ignited “the revolution in biology permitted by CRISPR/Cas 9 techniques.” These tools facilitate genome modification with an unprecedented degree of precision, and far more cheaply and straightforwardly than any previous method. Not unlike today’s simple, intuitive word processing programs, CRISPR/Cas 9 is able to “edit” the genome by “cutting and pasting” DNA sequences: a technology so efficient and powerful that it has spread like wildfire round the laboratories of the world, explains the jury, “as a tool to understand gene function and treat disease".
The prize jury, made up by eight European and US experts, described the development of this technique as a triumph of basic research, "driven by sheer curiosity", according to Robin Lovell-Badge, from the Francis Crick Institute in London (United Kingdom). He and his colleague Dario Alessi, from the University of Dundee (UK) were keen to highlight the vision and perseverance of Martínez Mojica in exploring a biological problem which at the time interested no one, but would enable the flowering of a new revolutionary technique.
As stated in the report, "Martínez Mojica identified CRISPR sequences and postulated their role as an adaptive defense system against viruses; Charpentier and Doudna elucidated the molecular mechanism of CRISPR/Cas 9 action and demonstrated its potential use as a universal tool for genome editing, paving the way for a multitude of applications in essentially any organism.
Since it came into play as a genome editing tool in 2012, CRISPR/Cas 9 has been used to search for new treatments against numerous diseases – including cancer and AIDS – as well as to breed new plant varieties and in environmental applications. The technique has cut the time required to voluntarily alter the genome from years to a matter of weeks, and many have hailed it as the democratisation of genetic editing, because it puts the technique within reach of any molecular biology lab.
Laboratories in China and the United States plan to shortly use it in clinical trials in humans as a treatment against diverse types of cancer. If these trials support the safety of gene editing in humans, we may soon see CRISPR/Cas 9-based treatments being tested for use against multiple ailments.