An all-female team of Delaware scientists from ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute arrived in North Carolina last week to teach gene editing with CRISPR in a Box at an all-girls high school.
Last week, students at Salem Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, experienced access to the CRISPR in a Box technology — an educational resource invented in 2017 to inspire interest in gene editing. Salem Academy, exclusive to girls in grades 9-12, became the first school in North Carolina to offer the workshop as it pivots its academic focus to a STEAM curriculum.
The gene editing tools in CRISPR in a Box are based on the pioneering discoveries of ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute which are currently being used to explore next-generation medical therapies and diagnostics for diseases including cancer and sickle-cell anemia.
“It has been incredible to see the delight in the eyes of the intelligent young women at the Salem Academy as they discover the wonder and power of CRISPR,” said Amanda Hewes, education program manager for the Gene Editing Institute, which developed CRISPR in a Box. “It is our goal to expose the world’s young minds to the latest biomedical tools that will ultimately change the way we treat and cure disease, and to encourage the growth of the next diverse generation of genomic scientists and leaders.”
Since 2015, ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute researchers have been involved in several groundbreaking firsts in the field, including the development of the first CRISPR gene editing tool to allow DNA repairs outside the human cell, which will rapidly speed therapies to patients, and a unique version of CRISPR called EXACT that reduces the number of off-target edits to other areas of the genome, which is vital for further research and patient applications. Its researchers are currently developing a patient trial for lung cancer using CRISPR technology.
All materials in the existing kit are safe, synthetic materials. There are no live cultures or viruses involved. The kit is meant to provide a hands-on demonstration of CRISPR’s capabilities, but not allow for manipulations of living organisms.
Students will be able to see the results of their gene editing experiments.
Several Delaware high schools, such as St. Georges Vo-Tech, Appoquinimink High, William Penn High and Brandywine High, are using the kit in science classes. Delaware Technical Community College has been using the protocol to train 70 community college faculty from over 35 colleges across the United States.
Drexel University in Philadelphia used the kit in its summer academy while Montgomery County Community College has used it in science courses and the Franklin Institute will use it in upcoming STEM Scholars science sessions.
Gene Editing Institute founder, executive director and Chief Science Officer Dr. Eric Kmiec has a goal of discovering ways to improve the performance of the gene editing tool as the institute plans for the first-ever use of gene editing in solid tumors with an anticipated lung cancer clinical trial.
One of the Gene Editing Institute’s missions is to help diversify the gene editing profession and make sure, when CRISPR’s hope is realized, that all patients, whether in academic hospital settings or community hospitals, have access to the latest and best technologies. Part of this mission is to teach the next generation of scientists about CRISPR gene editing technology and to make it available to underrepresented communities.
“With the CRISPR technology we have today, we are at the forefront of medical discoveries like no other time in history,” said Dr. Kmiec. “We need to ensure that the next generation of medical technologies is developed equitably to serve all people and to remove obstacles to ensure our work benefits women, people of color and others who have too often been left behind or shut out of science.”