CRISPR is a tool that has revolutionized the field of gene editing and is now gaining terrain outside the lab with the aim of detecting diseases through a non-invasive procedure, a revolution in its own right. Janice Chen is a recent PhD graduate in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkeley. She is the co-founder and Chief Research Officer at Mammoth Biosciences, a biotechnology company harnessing a revolutionary gene-editing tool called CRISPR - used for rapid and affordable disease detection. During her time as a graduate student under CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, Chen studied how DNA-cutting CRISPR proteins recognize and cut their target, thus enabling more precise gene-editing tools. This investigation also revealed that some DNA-targeting CRISPR proteins have ideal properties for nucleic acid detection, which evolved into a programmable DNA detection technology called DETECTR that Chen co-created. Chen sees the enormous potential in new diagnostic tools developed out of CRISPR biology, from identifying bacterial and viral infections to early cancer detection. Ethical questions are never far when talking about DNA testing: Every individual should have access to their genetic information, but what exactly can they do with it? How does potential disease risk affect life choices? Can it influence genetic discrimination? Chen is aware of these questions but she also believes that if deployed appropriately, CRISPR has the potential to democratize diagnostics and allow anyone and everyone to make informed choices about their health and that of their families, quickly and affordably.
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