Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Review of Tapani Ronni’s Session on CRISPR at the ATA 57th Annual Conference

By Brooke A. Cochran

Tapani Ronni presented an extremely intriguing session on Friday, November 4, 2016 at the ATA 57th Annual Conference. entitled “CRISPR Gene Editing: From Tailored Gene Therapy to Species Engineering.” Between his PhD in genetics and his experience as an English to Finnish translator, he was at ease sharing his knowledge with the 30 or so attendees.

Ronni began with a general history of gene editing. It was interesting to learn that it goes back to the 1970s but was not successfully applied until the late ‘80s. As such, gene editing is a relatively new branch of science and far from being a medicine. As promised in the abstract, the main part of the session covered various uses of the CRISPR system: “gene therapy, genome editing for basic research, rapid creation of disease models, and even species engineering.”

As for using it for gene therapy, Ronni explained that this is a way to correct genetic disorders such as Gaucher’s disease and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. These examples helped illustrate the more practical uses of gene editing and how they can positively impact people’s quality of life.

Then, he discussed gene editing as an option for fighting extremely notorious diseases, including cancer and malaria. Ronni said that scientists are learning to edit T cells to fight cancer cells. For fighting malaria, he said, scientists are testing the CRISPR system in species engineering. This example, with various slides to help illustrate it, led to much discussion.

Ronni explained that, theoretically, a certain number of a female malaria mosquito’s genes could be edited to make her less fertile. Then, a large number of these “engineered” mosquitos could be released into the wild. As they mated and reproduced offspring with the same gene, the entire species would eventually die off due to rampant infertility. As a result, malaria would no longer be a concern. Of course, this would mean navigating murky waters with many unknowns, such as how this would impact other species related to the mosquitos. This naturally transitioned the session into the question of gene editing in human embryos, which he pointed out is illegal now, but in 20-30 years may change.

Three big takeaways from this session:
  • An informed understanding of how gene editing works including related terminology.
  • Examples of the many possible uses of the CRISPR system.
  • This is a fast-growing field, which means lots of work for translators in the future, from documents related to studies to questions facing ethical committees and regulatory bodies.

Brooke has been a writer her whole life and a French>English translator for 5 years. Equipped with an MA in French, she specializes in the life sciences and patents, which satisfies her curiosity-hungry mind. She is a life-long learner who enjoys travel and connecting with new people.


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