Emmanuelle Charpentier, Ph.D., and Jennifer A. Doudna, Ph.D., have been awarded the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for their work in developing the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing tool. Dr. Charpentier is the head of the Regulation in Infection Biology department at the Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung (Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research) in Braunschweig, Germany, and also a co-founder and advisor to Swiss drug developer CRISPR Therapeutics. Dr. Doudna is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at the University of California, Berkeley.

The $3 million prize, which recognizes researchers who are advancing research that extends human life and cures deadly diseases, is funded by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan of Facebook, Google's Sergey Brin, entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner, and 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki. 

Dr. Doudna's research focuses on determining the molecular structures of RNA molecules as a basis for understanding their biological function. Her work, according to HHMI, lays the foundation for understanding the evolution of RNAs and their relationship to the molecules that played a role in early forms of life. Dr. Doudna's team adapted the CRISPR system so that it can be guided by a single short RNA molecule. Dr. Charpentier co-invented CRISPR/Cas9 while working at Umea University in Sweden and, as part of CRISPR Therapeutics, now aims to translate the gene editing technology into medicines for genetic diseases. 

Other researchers who won the Breakthrough Prize include:

  • Alim Louis Benabid from Joseph Fourier University, for the discovery and pioneering work on the development of high-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS), advancing the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
  • C. David Allis from the Rockefeller University, for the discovery of covalent modifications of histone proteins and their  roles in regulating gene expression and chromatin organization.
  • Victor Ambros of the  University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Gary Ruvkun of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, for the discovery of a new world of genetic regulation by microRNAs, a class of RNA molecules that inhibit translation or destabilize complementary mRNA targets. 
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