Sunday, January 31, 2016

California CRISPR: Three Golden State Researchers Slated to Explore Gene Editing Directions

Three California stem cell researchers are on tap this week to discuss current and future projects that could involve the state's $3 billion stem cell research agency, CRISPR concerns and the possibility of scientific missteps or worse.

The trio is scheduled to speak at a day-long conference Thursday in Los Angeles which has been convened by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known.

The CRISPR technique allows relatively easy changes in genes, including alterations that could be inherited and become part of the human race.

The possibilities have stirred concern internationally, leading many blue-ribbon scientists to call for a moratorium on use of the technique in some cases.

CIRM has promised a full array of bioethicists and others for its conclave. Specifically scheduled to explore research directions in California are Jacob Corn, managing director and scientific director of the Innovative Genomics Initiative at UC Berkeley; Amander Clark, professor and vice chair of the Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology at UCLA, and Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte of the Salk Institute and former director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona.

Clark and Izpisua Belmonte are both recipients of awards from the California stem cell agency.
Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte
Salk photo

Izpisua Belmonte has received three CIRM grants totaling $6.6 million, one of which deals with vascular disease. He filed a progress report on the research that said, 

“During the course of this project we have been able to identify novel genetic elements and laboratory conditions facilitating the conversion of human skin cells to vessels comprising the vascular system. The generation of vessels in the laboratory may allow for the treatment of multiple human maladies including ischemic situations.”
Clark received a $1.2 million award from CIRM dealing with human embryonic stem cells. Her CIRM progress report said that the research resulted in development of 15 new hESC lines and will help improve understanding of Down Syndrome.
Amander Clark, UCLA photo

Corn is closely connected to Jennifer Doudna, who is executive director of Berkeley’s Innovative Genomics Initiative. Doudna developed the CRISPR technique at her lab at Berkeley. 

Jacob Corn, UC Berkeley photo
Last month, Corn provided a “translation” of the statement from the widely publicized international conference in December on human gene editing.

Corn wrote, at one point, that the document said “trans-generational gene editing could be very unfair, and might extend ‘rich get richer’ societal problems into our very genes, and trans-generational edits could change our own evolution more than societal influences, and it’s not clear that we actually want to or should do that.”

In addition to the public session in Los Angeles, Thursday's meeting will be available via an audiocast. Directions are on the agenda, but allow some time in advance for setting up your access.
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