In lieu of an interview transcript, I have decided to summarize the interviews I conducted. All the ideas summarized below are Dr. Doxzen's responses to my interview questions.
Dr. Kevin Doxzen is the Science Communications Specialist at the Innovative Genomics Institute. As a general question, I first asked Dr. Doxzen what he believes the general public should know about genome editing using CRISPR. Dr. Doxzen responded by saying that he believes that it is important for people to know the applications of this technology. Some of these applications include agriculture, biomedicine, and microbiology. It is also important to know the different regulations that are in place regarding this technology.
Compared to some technologies, CRISPR is sometimes characterized as not very precise. When asked about this complication, Dr. Doxzen described a few strategies scientists can use to get around this. One of these strategies is bioinformatics. Scientists can use bioinformatics to detect how many off-target effects are present and then adjust the guide RNA to have less off-target effects. Scientists have also developed another tool called xCas9, an enzyme that is more specific in targeting. There is also dCas9, an enzyme in which the catalytic sites that cut the DNA are mutated. With these sites mutated, scientists can use dCas9 to target specific sequences without cutting them. When asked about the best use of this technology, Dr. Doxzen indicated that studying basic biology is one of the best uses. For example, scientists can study how the limbs of creatures are formed or how the patterns on butterfly wings form. Dr. Doxzen believes that this genome editing technology can be used to accelerate basic science.
In terms of concerns, Dr. Doxzen mentioned a few including: editing germs cells, that can be passed down to future generations. It is very important that these techniques are very well thought out because you can not necessarily undo the changes you made to such cells. Yet another concern Dr. Doxzen mentioned was that of “DIY CRISPR.” Essentially anyone could order DNA that contains Cas9 and a guide RNA and use it on themselves. Dr. Doxzen did however mention that this is not the biggest concern since you would still need expertise and the right materials to correctly create the vector. Dr. Doxzen did mention however, that this is not the biggest concern considering that using this technology still requires expertise as well as the right materials. As a follow-up, Dr. Doxzen also stated that he believes that the government should play a role in the regulation of this technology, because it is important that they know what the technology is capable of.
One of the applications of CRISPR and genome editing in general involves societal issues such as disease. When asked about what he believes are good targets for genome editing, Dr. Doxzen indicated that sickle cell anemia, huntington's disease, muscular dystrophy, and blindness are all good targets. He also mentioned that another good target is cancer. The procedure involving curing cancer includes the editing of the body’s immune cells so that they recognize the cancer better and are better equipped to fight it. I then asked Dr. Doxzen about whether he thinks base editing will turn out to be a better system for targeting these diseases. Dr. Doxzen responded by saying that base editing is a great advancement since it targets single bases. It is beneficial for thousands of diseases, but not all. An advantage to base editing is that instead of cutting a whole sequence of DNA, you are only changing a single letter. In that sense, you do not have to be concerned with the repair process.
Dr. Doxzen works at the Innovative Genomics Institute, a partnership between the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco. Some of the things the Innovative Genomics Institute is doing to raise awareness about genome editing include: the “Ask a Scientist” program. They have also developed games as well as classroom CRISPR kits and theyhost events on their campus in California. The development of CRISPR is moving at a very fast pace. When asked about whether he believes it is important for schools to introduce this topic to their students Dr. Doxzen responded that he does think it is important. The Innovative Genomics Institute has talked with different teachers as a means of developing lessons plans to implement in their classrooms.
Dr. Doxzen also believes that public engagement is very important. Most people know someone with a genetic disease and people are genuinely curious about what is out in the world.
In terms of the criteria that should be met before scientists move forward with genome editing, Dr. Doxzen believes it is important for there to be a discussion about any hazards that may exist, considering that clinical trials do take a lot of time, effort and money.