Nobel Prize in Chemistry Goes to Developers of Genome Editing System CRISPR


The creation of the CRISPR-Cas9, a novel gene-editing technology used in oncology and other areas of scientific research was the antecedent for Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD, and Jennifer A. Doudna, PhD, being awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The creation of the CRISPR-Cas9 (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats-associated protein 9), a novel gene-editing technology used in oncology and other areas of scientific research was the antecedent for Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD, a professor at the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Germany, and Jennifer A. Doudna, PhD, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, being awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.1

CRISPR is a technology can alter the DNA in human cells through gene editing, which in the case of cancer could detect specific targets like RNA from cancer cells and DNA from cancer-causing viruses.2

“With the development of the CRISPR/Cas9 system, Charpentier and Doudna established a groundbreaking genome-editing mechanism that has contributed to monumental progress in molecular biology and genetics and is advancing our understanding of tumor initiation and progression,” Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), said in a statement. “This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry is richly deserved, and we offer our deepest congratulations to these esteemed scientists.”

The technology is considered easy to use compared with other gene-editing tolls and is customizable. It can be used to edit almost any segment of DNA in the human genome by adding or deleted sequences and is considered more precise than other DNA-editing tools.

Oncologists are trying to use this technology with a patient-first approach at community cancer centers like Christiana Care. The process for using CRISPR at their institution was discussed by Eric Kmeic, PhD, and how this technology could further help patients in different cancer settings such as lymphoma and T cell leukemia. Clinical trials are also underway to investigate the use of CRISPR in different cancer types such as metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NCT02793856).

Charpentier and Doudna were selected by their colleagues to be fellows at the AACR Academy in 2017. Those a part of the AACR Academy aim to use research, education, communication, and collaboration to prevent and cure all cancers. Being selected is also meant to recognize and honor scientists who have contributed significant innovation and progress in the cancer setting.

Doudna most recently received awards in 2018, including the Microbiology Society Prize Medal Winner, American Cancer Society Medal of Honor, Kavli Prize in Nanoscience, V de Vida Award, Croonian Medal, AACR-Irving Weinstein Foundation Distinguished Lectureship, and the NAS Award in Chemical Sciences. Charpentier has most recently won awards in 2017 such as the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, Albany, New York, Elected Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences, and the Japan Prize. Both women have over 40 awards between them spanning back to 1999.

“We celebrate the spectacular achievements of these scientists, whose work is being applied to all aspects of cancer research for the benefit of cancer patients worldwide,” Foti said in a press release.


1. AACR congratulates Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna on the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. New release. Published October 7, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020.

2. How CRISPR is changing cancer research and treatment. News release. Published July 27, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020.

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