A Halifax scientist has made a breakthrough when it comes to gene editing that could lead to significant progress in cancer treatment.
CRISPR (clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) was invented two years ago. It’s a gene editing technique that allows for the editing of genomes – an organisms complete set of DNA – with unheard of precision.
Dr. Graham Dellaire, a researcher at Dalhousie University, has created a new technique that will work with CRISPR to help researchers measure how efficient gene therapy is.
“We’ve really added to the toolbox for researchers internationally to be able to look at the effectiveness of their compounds and enhancing CRISPR,” Dellaire said Thursday.
Dellaire created a fluorescent tagging system that will allow scientists to identify when gene editing has been successful.
“It’s very rare that you would see a game changing technology like this come along,” said research associate Jayme Slasman.
“So it’s been an incredible opportunity to kind of be a part of how we use this and how we implement this.”
Aiming at cancers, genetic diseases
The hope is that this new technique could lead researchers closer to finding cures for genetic diseases and learning more about how cancers are treated.
“It’s really changing the way that we are able to do cancer research here in our own lab,” said Salsman.
Dellaire has already had requests from scientists around the world who want to use the technology.
But the future of his lab, and labs of fellow researchers across the country, remains unclear as all research scientists in Canada are fighting for a share of the same funding.
“We can’t maintain status quo, never mind be competitive when we’re all holding our breath,” said Dellaire.
Dellaire says he’s ready to move on to the next phase of his research, which would include using animal models to correct muscle disease, but he’s at a stand still due to the lack of funds.
“This laboratory has enough operating funds to operate for one year with no additional funding. Next year, I’m going to have to lay off at least one employee. The following year, all my students will have to graduate,” said Dellaire.
“That means the research in this lab will stop.”
CRISPR was recently named 2015’s breakthrough discovery of the year.