Faculty Forum Online: Feng Zhang

Faculty Forum Online: Feng Zhang

[CYMBAL CRESCENDO] Hi, I’m Judy Cole, the
Executive Vice President and CEO of the MIT Alumni Association. And I’m delighted to welcome
you to this web production of the MIT Alumni Association. Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to the Faculty
Forum Online, which as you know is a program of the
MIT Alumni Association. My name is Nate Nickerson. I’m the Vice President
for Communications at MIT. And I’ll serve as the moderator
of today’s discussion, which will go from
now until 12:45, which is 45 minutes from now. So alumni, if you wish
to ask a question, just enter your first
name and your location and the question in the
form that’s on your screen right now. And we will try to answer
as many of your questions as possible. So our guest today, as you know,
is Assistant Professor Feng Zhang. For those of you who are
not familiar with his work– and I’m talking to both of you– Professor Zhang is an
Assistant Professor in the Department of Brain
and Cognitive Sciences and a core member of the Broad
Institute of MIT and Harvard. He did his undergraduate work
at Harvard, his graduate work at Stanford. And here he is at MIT. He is well known for
his pioneering work in genome editing. And he is also widely
recognized for his contributions to the emerging field
of optogenetics. In the last three years
alone, Professor Zhang has been honored
with many awards from his peers in the field
of biology, neuroscience, and medicine. Reactions to his work have
been intense in the press. I’ll be referring in a moment
to a very good piece in The New Yorker about Professor Zhang. And I think we have
the opportunity today to truly understand his work. So before I let Professor
Zhang give us a little intro, let me explain some of the
things I hope we do today. I hope we’ll get a very good
understanding from Professor Zhang about what CRISPR
is, how it came to be, what its relative
significance is, and perhaps where it’s
going to be heading. I also hope we’ll get a good
sense of Professor Zhang’s background and a little bit
of insight into how he thinks. So Professor Zhang, thank
you very much for joining us. Thank you. So if you wouldn’t mind, I think
you have a few slides prepared. Just walking folks
through your work and through the
basics of CRISPR, that would be really helpful. Sure. Well good afternoon. I’m an Assistant Professor
in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. And so one of the things
that really motivates us is to understand how
the brain functions. As so, the brain is one of
the most complicated organs in our entire body. And so, as you can imagine,
if something goes wrong, a large number of diseases
can come as a result. Here is just a short list of
diseases that affect the brain. What is in common about
them is that we don’t really understand either
the full mechanism or have treatments for
any of these diseases. And so the work of
many laboratories over the past
several decades have started to highlight the
important contribution of the genetics and also
the epigenetic in the brain function. And so in order to
understand that, we need better tools
to be able to dissect the complexity of the brain. And so we have been
taking an approach of developing
molecular tools to help us dissect the different
aspects of brain function. We could either be looking
at the signaling that goes on in the brain
between different cells. So that was done by developing
tools called optogenetics which allow us to use light or laser
flashes to be able to control the patterns of activity
that one cell signals to another cell. And then beyond that
signaling, we’ve also been focused on developing
genome engineering technologies to be able to alter the DNA
sequences inside the neurons so that we can try
to understand what is the function of
specific genetic mutations or genetic differences in
the context of disease. And so together, using
these approaches, we are hoping that we can use
it to uncover new mechanisms, new therapeutic
targets that we can develop a drug for, and then
be able to treat diseases of the brain. And so one of the things
that we have been developing to do DNA or genome editing is
from a bacterial immune system called a CRISPR-Cas. The bacterial cells
are very much like us. In nature, they
are often invaded by viruses or other kinds
of infectious agents. And so we have the
immune system in our body to be able to defend
ourselves against bacteria and against viruses. And the way our
immune system works is through antibodies,
which are proteins that serve to remember
previous infections. And when the virus
infects us again, it will mount an immune
response and then destroy that invading bacteria or virus. In bacterial cells, there’s
also an immune system. And this immune system
uses RNA sequences to recognize the DNA of
the invading viruses. So RNA and DNA, they
share a very similar code. And so the RNA can try to
match or pair with the DNA. So this immune system in the
bacteria cell, CRISPR-Cas, if this RNA pairs up
with the invading DNA from the virus or DNA
from the invading virus, then the CRISPR-Cas will
destroy the incoming DNA. And so this is a
very powerful system. And what we have
been working on is to harness some of the
machineries, enzymes or proteins, from
the CRISPR system and putting them into mammals,
human cells or animal models, and be able to edit the
DNA Sequence so that you can make a cut in the DNA
and change it to sequences that you want to study
or to repair disease causing mutations and reverting
them back into a wild type sequence. And so the strategy
that we have been taking has be a three-pronged strategy
to develop this system. The first prong is we
need to better understand the basic biology
of the CRISPR system so that we can figure out how
we can best harness these tools. And then the second is
to develop applications. Test it in real
world applications and see how well does the CRISPR
system that we harness work. How can we develop it
so that researchers can use it to study
anywhere from plant biology to microbiology all
the way to neurological and also psychiatric diseases? And then the third prong,
which is just as important, is how do we make sure that the
region is open and available and also know how is easily
accessible for researchers around the world who want to
use this to study biology. And so we have also
been trying to make resources available to
the broader community. So broadly speaking,
there are a lot of applications for the
CRISPR-Cas or genome editing technology. We can use it as
a research tool. So for example, we can use
it to build animal models. You can take a mouse
or take a human cell and put in the specific
genetic mutation that you want to study. And then we can use that
to test the function and try to discover
mechanisms of disease. But beyond using it
as a research tool, you can also use this in
the area of biotechnology. Imagine using
CRISPR-Cas to introduce in specific variants
or specific traits in plants to make
them draught resistant or to provide a higher yield. Or be able to engineer
microorganisms to be able to produce
higher levels of biofuel, so we can solve the energy
crisis, and so forth. And then the third, which
is also very exciting, is in the long run we may be
able to develop CRISPR-Cas into a therapeutic technology. So rather than using
it to research biology, we may be able to put CRISPR-Cas
into the cells of a disease affected organ
and be able to fix this specific mutations that
may be underlying the disease. For example,
hopefully, we might be able to take blood
stem cells from someone who has sickle cell disease,
repair the mutation. And then put those stem
cells back into the patient and therefore treat sickle cell
disease using genome editing. And so these are just
some of the applications. And of course, there are
many more applications. And I’m really delighted
to be here today to tell you more about
the CRISPR-Cas technology. Excellent. So Professor Zhang, I’ll
ask a follow-up question. And I say to you out there that
take the floor is sort of now yours, as it were, so
send in any questions you have and we’ll get to those. Professor Zhang, I
wonder if you can walk us through the basics
of what approach– and maybe there
are more than one– but what approach does CRISPR
on in any editing of the genome? So the way that we
edit the genome is by– so think about this. So the genome is a
long string of DNA. And in the human genome,
there are 3 billion letters. And there are four letters
in the genome– so A, T, G, and C. For a
mutation in the genome, it could be any of
the 3 billion letters. So imagine if you are trying
to type a document in Microsoft Word and you made a typo. So after you print it
out, you read it on paper. And if you figured
out that there is a specific typo in
this document on page 37 out of 5,000 pages. So once you go back
to your computer, how do you go about
fixing the typo? Well one way to do it is to
type in that sentence that contained the typo into
the search function so that the program
can take the cursor and place it in
where that typo is. Once the cursor
is there, then you can delete or insert and
basically repair the word and make it make the
meaning restored. The way we go about
doing genome editing is we use CRISPR-Cas which
is like the search function inside of Microsoft Word. You give it a string of RNA. And this RNA is designed based
on the sequence in the DNA that contains the mutation. And so CAS9 or
Cpf1 is the enzyme. And it will work with
this RNA search string. And it will take the
RNA search string and the enzyme will go
in and go into the genome and be able to match
along the genome and find where it is
perfectly matching. When that happens,
then the CAS9 enzyme will make a cut in the DNA. So literally like a
scissors make a cut. That cut is the cursor. So wherever you
cut, you can then stimulate the repair process. And so think of
CRISPR-Cas9 CRISPR-Cpf1 as a way of using RNA
as a search string to direct the scissors to the
mutation site in the genome and allow you to make
a double stranded break to place the cursor
there to start editing. Great. Thank you. All right. So we have a question
from Michael in Houston who asks, “Do you have more
faith in the CRISPR method than in TALEN or ZFN methods? Why or why not? And perhaps as part of
answering that question, can you give a little
definition for us? Sure. So thank you very
much for the question. This is a very, very,
very good question. So CRISPR is probably
the latest generation of genome editing technology. And before CRISPR, there had
been other genome editing technologies developed as well. So one of the technology
is called TALEN. It stands for transcription
activator-like effector nuclease, which is
basically an enzyme that’s harnessed from a
different type of microbe to be able to also find
specific sequences in the genome and make that cut to
place the cursor there. Before TALEN, there was
another technology called ZFN. And then before ZFN, there
was another technology called meganuclease. And so though
these are different iterations of the technology. You can think of them
as the rotary dial phone to a digital phone to
a cell phone to a smartphone and so forth. The difference between
CRISPR and all of the earlier technologies is that it’s
much, much easier to reprogram. So if you want to find
a specific sequence in the genome,
all you have to do is to give it a search
string to find where it is. In contrast, for TALEN or
for ZFN or for meganuclease, that search string is encoded
in the hardware of the computer. So imagine you have to
build a new computer to be able to search for a new typo. That’s enormously complicated
and it’s much slower. So because of that,
CRISPR is much easier. And that’s part
of the reason why CRISPR has been so rapidly
adapted around the world to do both research and
also for development of many applications. Now one important consideration
for any genome editing technology is the
specificity and also the efficiency of the system. When you compare CRISPR
with the other systems, the CRISPR system
is very robust. So if you wanted
to cut somewhere, it will make the cut. So from that
perspective, it’s better than these other technologies,
because it’s more efficient. In terms of
specificity, there has been a lot of work going on to
make CRISPR more efficient– more specific. The very first generation
of the CRISPR system we reported a
couple of years ago is known to make
off target cuts. So for sequences in the genome
that are highly similar but not perfectly matching they
can also get modified. But many groups
have been working on developing new, improved
versions of CRISPR. And so just last week, we had
published a paper describing a way of engineering the
CAS9 enzyme to make it much, much more specific than before. And so with these
new improvements, they are as good, if not better,
than the other technologies. And, of course, there’s
many, many more projects that are going on to
make the system even more powerful and specific. And so I think as these
developments happen, CRISPR will really become a
very resilient and precise tool. Great. Thank you. So we have another question. This is from Don
in Pittsburgh who asks whether you foresee
any possible applications to learning more precise detail
about the specific mechanism of initiation of disease,
such as Alzheimer’s or any other disease that
manifests in the brain? Yeah. So thank you for the question. The CRISPR technology
is a very powerful tool for studying the effective genes
or specific genetic mutations or variations in
the DNA of a cell. And so it can certainly
be used as a tool to discover what mutations
exacerbate the risk for disease or what mutations caused the
development of some disease. So we can take the Alzheimer
disease as a example. We know that there are certain
mutations or certain genetic differences that increase the
risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s. And so even when someone
has a mutation that increases the risk,
it doesn’t mean that person will
with 100% probability develop the disease. So there are other contributors
that take the risk probability and turn it into a certainty. And so we can use CRISPR
as a way of discovering what are these other factors
that cooperate with the disease risk and then eventually
result in the disease. So for example, you can use
CRISPR to systematically inactivate or activate every
single gene in the genome either individually
or in combinations and see what are the
combinations or individual changes in the
cell that will make a cellular model of Alzheimer’s
disease exhibit signs of degeneration or what will
cause those neurons to die. And by identifying these
combinations of factors, then we can start to
unravel the mechanism for how the disease is
initiated or how it progresses through the life of the cell. Great. So I am sure that with some
of the questions that come in, we’ll probably return to CRISPR. I want to swivel away from
that for just a second to ask the following–
so if we think about the questions about
CRISPR as being about a tool, I’m interested in getting
a little bit from you about your thought
about the brain itself which you’re in this
case applying the tool to. So I would say to
folks out there that if you haven’t
read the Michael Specter piece in The New Yorker from
one of the mid November issues, I encourage you to read it. I’m going to read back a
quote to you, Professor Zhang, and then ask you a kind
of question from that. So one of the things you
say in the piece is that– and I quote– “The brain is still the place
in the universe with the most unanswered questions.” So as you take this tool,
which as you’ve described is not only stunning
in its power, but also being rapidly
developed live, right? If you don’t mind,
can you talk with us about a couple of these grand
questions about the brain that you’re interested
in using this emerging technology to begin to answer? What do you think about when
you think about the brain? Sure. So I became very interested
in studying the brain because I realized there
are a lot of diseases in the brain that affect
the brain that we just don’t have a good understanding. So specifically, diseases that
affect our psychiatric diseases that affect our basic
functions as human beings are some of the diseases
that we really just don’t have a good
way of understanding. Now for many other
diseases we can already start to diagnose them
based on mechanisms. If we look at cancer,
we can already start to figure out
what type of cancer it is, what are the
genetic mutations that are found in these
tumor cells, and then be able to develop
treatments based on that mechanistic
understanding. For neurological
psychiatric diseases, we’re still very, very much
at the early stage of that. For diagnosis of schizophrenia
or bipolar disorder or major depression, they’re
often just based on phenotype. It’s not based on
understanding or diagnostics of specific molecular
mechanisms in these patients. So indeed, diseases like major
depression or schizophrenia or autism or bipolar, they are
very much spectrum disorders. There are probably
many different subtypes within each one of these
diagnoses categories. Just like when you say
cancer, there are really many different forms of cancer. So one of the
problems there is then to figure out what are
the mechanisms underlying these diseases
that will allow us to have a more accurate and
more mechanistic based diagnosis so that we can better figure
out what treatments will apply for the particular disease? Right now, if an antidepressant
was to be prescribed, the psychiatrist may start
with one antidepressant and say let’s try this
for a number of weeks and see if it works. If it doesn’t, we’ll
increase the dose. And if the increased
dosage doesn’t work, we’ll switch to
a different drug. So it’s entirely based on
experimental trial and error rather than based on
some understanding or insight into the
disease and then picking the right treatment. So I think that’s one of
the major challenges facing the diagnosis and
also the treatment of psychiatric diseases. The same challenge also applies
to many other neurological diseases, too– Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s,
and so forth. We know there are genetic bases
from familial disease patients who have single mutations
that cause the disease. But then also the vast
majority of patients, we have no idea what
causes the disease. Or how do we predict
that something will happen in these patients? And so in understanding those
molecular mechanisms that lead to those diseases is also
one of the really important challenges. And so we thought we
had to start somewhere. And it may be because there
are so many genes and so many genetic differences that
are involved in these diseases, we need better tools to
be able to take apart these different genes
and genetic mutations. And that’s what got us started
to work on genome editing, because being able to easily,
and cheaply, and also very rapidly introduce
mutations, that will make it possible
to start interrogate at the scale of this problem. Great. OK. So we do have a couple more
questions that have come in. I’ll go to those and
then I’ll come back and ask you a little bit
about your personal story. But Robert in LA
asks the following, “How do you know the target
sequence in the genome for whatever you’re
trying to do and please–” he asks you “to give
examples for non-biologists, if you will.” Sure. So the human genome
is composed of DNA. And DNA is composed
of just four letters. That’s A, T, G, and C.
And so the human genome is a long string of
3 billion letters. And there are just four types
of letters in this long string. And so if you were to figure out
a particular sequence that you want to target, we can go to the
already existing human genome. So the human genome
has been sequenced. And this is one of the really
important advances in biology in the recent decade. With the complete
human genome sequence, it gives us a reference point
for what the sequence may be. And so we’ll go into a computer. And we’ll open up this 3
billion letter long document. And then we’ll go
to the right gene that we want to study
or design a CRISPR for. And then we’ll copy
the sequence from there and then use that to
make a small editing. Great. OK. So we have a question from
Kip in Portland, Maine, who asks what role
should industry play in developing CRISPR research? And as part of that, what
percentage of research using the method, being
CRISPR, is happening now at universities
versus companies? That is a very good question. So CRISPR is already being both
developed and also deployed in academia and industry, and
quite broadly in both academia and also industry. There are researchers
from many universities. I think anybody in biology
who is doing anything with DNA is now probably using some
form of the CRISPR technology in their applications. They’re using it to
generate animal models or they use it to
manipulate their cells. Or they use it to
conduct genetic screens to find new gene function. And this is in animal
biology, in molecular biology, in plant biology,
basically anywhere where people are working on using
these molecular tools. In industry, it’s
very much the same. I think all of the major
pharmaceutical companies are already using CRISPR
as a tool in their research and development laboratories. They’re using it either for
discovery of new drug targets or for validation
of drug targets. And also even outside of that,
in many educational setting I think people are already
using CRISPR as well to just learn how to
manipulate the genome of different organisms. So that’s all for using
CRISPR as application tools. There are also
many laboratories, both in academia
and also industry that are developing
the CRISPR technology. And so in academia, there
are laboratories like mine, but also many other
laboratories that are working on
developing and improving the CRISPR technology. In industry, there’s also
quite a bit of activity. Depending on the
function of the company, there are, for example,
several companies that have been established
in the past couple of years focused on developing CRISPR
into a therapeutic drug. And so they are developing
with that very specific purpose in mind to make CRISPR more
specific, more powerful, and make it possible
so that they can be delivered into a patient. But then plant biology
companies are probably developing CRISPR for
applications in different crop species. There are also folks who
are developing CRISPR for engineering livestock
or using it to engineer microorganisms for biofuels. So it’s a very exciting
time for genome editing because there are really
many, many laboratories both in academia
and in industry. And oftentimes they work
in a collaborative fashion to advance the technology. Great. So a very interesting
technical question comes from Erica
in San Francisco. She asks, “For small
deletions made by CRISPR, is there the possibility
of correction back to the original sequence
through recombination?” Yes. So thank you for your question. I did a poor job of explaining
the correction part. So the way that CRISPR works
is it makes the cut in the DNA. And that cut is
you can think of it as a cursor in Microsoft Word. So once you make a
cut, CRISPR, this cut, will engage proteins
or machineries that are already present in the
cell to facilitate the change. So if you don’t provide
anything in addition to the CRISPR
system, that cut will result in either a random
insertion or random deletion. And that’s very powerful
for inactivating or deleting something from the genome. But you can also provide
a repair template at the same time as when you
put in the CRISPR system. And this template will work with
a different set of machineries in a cell to allow recombination
of a very specific sequence into the DNA to then
allow correction or precise alteration
of a sequence. So for example,
if ultimately, we want to treat cystic
fibrosis and we want to correct the Delta506
mutation, then one thing to do is to introduce both the CRISPR
reagent to make a cut anywhere where that mutation
exists in the cell. But then also at the same
time provide a repair template which is a piece of DNA that
has the correct sequence. And the machineries in the cell
will use that new template DNA to swap in or recombine
in the desired sequence. Great. So we have a couple of very
good questions I will ask. But let me interrupt
this questions to ask you if there we go back
to your childhood or to your young
adulthood, was there anything kind of memorable
in terms of your experience that got you very interested
either in science generally or in a path that led you here? Sure. Absolutely. I think all along my childhood
and also my training, I have been very fortunate to
have very fantastic mentors. I grew up in a
household of engineers. So I was actually
exposed to a lot of the scientific,
technical things. And then that got me very
interested in technology, but mostly in the computer area. And then when I moved to
Des Moise, Iowa, from China, my middle school had
a Saturday program on just telling kids about
different things going on. And one of the classes
was molecular biology. And so I went to that
class and the teacher there really kind
of opened up my mind in terms of thinking
about biology. Because before then, I
thought biology was just about memorizing things and
dissecting frogs and labeling anatomical parts and
working in a smelly room. But the enrichment
class, they showed us how to extract DNA
from strawberries. They showed us the
movie Jurassic Park. And all of that just
made me become extremely fascinated about
molecular biology as something that
you can possibly use rational thinking to be able
to engineer or to do something useful. And then, in high school, I had
a really phenomenal opportunity to then work in a
gene therapy lab. And there, again, I
had a fantastic mentor. His name is John Levy. And he taught me all
sorts of knowledge about biology and molecular
biology, much of that I still use today. And then in college
and in graduate school, I then, again, worked
with fantastic mentors. My PhD advisor Karl
Deisseroth, who’s at Stanford, was both a role model as well
as someone who really taught me how to think about taking
on important problems and developing
solutions for them through a very rational
systematic approach. And even now being at MIT
with all the colleagues and collaborators, it’s just
been a fantastic learning experience all throughout. And I think I feel
very fortunate. Great. So back to questions. And Ian from Golden Colorado
asks a big one and a good one. So he says, “Look CRISPR is
being both hailed and assailed. And we have seen
that in the press.” So he asks, “How
are bioethicists keeping up with potential uses
and abuses of this technology?” I know there was a recent
meeting about all this. Yeah. This is a very
important question. So CRISPR is a
powerful technology. But it depends on how you
use the technology there can be both positive as well
as the negative effects. And so, indeed, the
question of what is the best way and the most
thoughtful and prudent way of using the technology
has been very much under debate and consideration. So for example, a
lot of this has been covered in newspaper articles. And then just a
couple of weeks ago, I was at a international summit
co-hosted by the US National Academy of Sciences, the
UK Royal Society, and also the Chinese Academy of Science. And it was the first
international gathering where experts,
both the scientists as well as bioethics
experts have come together to begin a dialogue
about how to think about applying this technology. And so these conversations
are very important. The summit was
very, very helpful and very, very useful as it
started to converge everybody so that we know what are
the points to think about. And also, it provided very
useful and important guidance for how to use the technology. These kinds of
considerations are ongoing. And, in fact, there is a
very specific working group from this summit that is now
in the process of generating a scientific description and
also a report that advises what is the best path forward. And so I think those are all
very important activities that will help us use this
very responsibly. Great. OK. A couple other good ones. So Alan in Plainfield,
Vermont, has this. He says, “In a
disease like ataxia, a genetic error, say 40
repeats of code instead of 20, is a dominant error that
causes brain problems. What do we expect CRISPR
to be able to impact every cell in a grown person
and help with a cure?” He says that what amazes him is
a prospect that this technology can work to change every cell. So I know there’s
a lot in there, but I wonder what
you make of that. Yeah. So that’s a very good question. So genetic diseases are
caused by genetic mutations that are either inherited
from our parents. Or it somehow happened
either during development or once we became adult and DNA
inside of our cells mutated. A disease like ataxia could
be here an inherited disorder. So that really means every
single cell in our body carries that
mutation in the DNA. But just because
every cell carries the mutation doesn’t
mean that mutation is active in every single cell. Our genome is the same
in every single cell, but we have different
kinds of cells in the body. We’ll have brain cells. We’ll have skin cells. And we’ll have liver cells
and we’ll have muscle. These cells are different
because they express a different subset of genes. So not every cell or any cell
expresses every single gene in the genome. And so when we are thinking
about a disease mutation, it’s really important
to make sure we understand what are the cells
that express this mutated gene? So for example,
one form of ataxia called spinal cerebellar
ataxia will only have a gene that carries a
mutation that is predominantly affecting cells
in the cerebellum. And in that case,
we will not need to correct every single
cell in the body, because the vast
majority of cells is not affected by the mutation. And we just have to make sure
we go in to the relevant cells and make the change. Even then, it may
not be critical that we change every single
cell in the affected tissue. Of course, it depends
on the disease. But it’s likely that even
repairing a large fraction of cells, say somewhere between
30%-70% of cells will already provide a very significant
therapeutic relief. Great. OK. We have a really great question
from Sonia in Cambridge. This is sort of along
the lines of sort of day in the life of Feng Zhang. So she asks what a day, what
a lab using CRISPR looks like. And as part of that, she asks
how much time do you spend in code versus at a microscope? And are mathematicians at
work in such a lab also? Sure. So CRISPR is being used in many
laboratories around the world now. And most of those labs,
or all of those labs, have a basic setup
doing molecular biology. And so this would be– imagine if you walk into the
lab space, you will see benches. And on the benches, there will
be fairly standard laboratory equipment like a
centrifuge or a scale or a water bath where there’s
water in there maintained at a specific temperature. And then there will
be PCR machines. And then to manipulate
cells, imagine in the room there are also incubators. And inside the incubator,
which are often maintained at 37 degrees,
so our body temperature, there are Petri
dishes that are filled with different kinds of fluid. In the fluid are
the nutrients that keep the cells in those
Petri dishes alive. And there are also
a microscopes where you can visualize
these cells to see what are the effects
of the modification. And so these are fairly
standard molecular biology, cell biology, set up
within the laboratory. And then there will
also be computers. And you asked whether
or not mathematicians are working on it. We don’t use a lot of very,
very advanced theoretical math, but there is quite a bit of
computation and programming involved to be able
to analyze the result. Because oftentimes the data that
we collect is quite massive. And being able to write
computer programs, being able to program specific
algorithms to analyze the data, that is something that
is also very routine. Great. We have five minutes. Have time for a
couple more questions. So this comes from
Ali in Boston who asks is CRISPR editing only
performed in vitro in cells or can it also be
performed in vivo? Yeah. So that’s a good, good question. So CRISPR really can
be used in both in vivo and also in vitro settings. For in vitro, you can modify
cells in Petri dishes. And for in vivo,
will have developed small, compact enzymes that
can be efficiently introduced into the body of a mouse. And there are also other
researchers now applying this into rats and also
other animal models. And it works well in
these animal models. And so that suggests
that maybe eventually we can develop it for
therapeutic deliver into patients. So I’ll actually take
the last question which will be sort of vague. But for the folks
who work in your lab, for students you teach, what
is most interesting to them, most motivating to them? What keeps them really
engaged in this work? Yeah. That’s a really good question. And I think the ability
to manipulate a genome and also being able to
use it, to understand the mechanistic basis of
disease is very much something that motivates all of us to work
on developing this technology. And as we develop
the technology, we realize that
what we want to do is to be able to make any kind
of change we want inside a cell so we can study
these genetic effects and also be able to
then go into a patient and remove specific mutations
so that we can treat disease. As we work towards developing
and achieving these goals, we learn about the challenges
and the limitations of the existing systems. And that also provides
us with motivation for how to make it even
more powerful to finally be able to reach that goal. And it’s really
been very exciting. And also the entire
community is all very engaged in developing technology. So working as a part of this
energetic and exciting field is something that also provides
a lot of momentum energy. Great. Well with regret, we
have to stop there. But Professor Zhang, on behalf
of the Alumni Association, we thank you very
much for doing this. Thank you. I found it completely
fascinating. And I know folks out
there must have also. So to the alumni, I will
say that if we didn’t get to your question,
if you do submit it through the screen
in front of you, we will pass it on to Professor
Zhang after the broadcast. And feel free to share
other questions or comments on Twitter using the
hashtag #MITFaculty. You can also view an archive
of past Faculty Forums online by visiting the
Learn section of the Alumni Association website. Please join us next
month for another session of Faculty Forum online. Thank you very much. Thanks again for joining us. For more information on
future MIT Alumni Association productions, please
visit our website site. [CYMBAL CRESCENDO]

5 thoughts on “Faculty Forum Online: Feng Zhang

  1. If you need to know about CRISPR, this is pretty much all you need to watch. However, you will still need to contemplate the moral implications and future considerations.

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