Dr. Zhang’s lab at MIT is focused on using synthetic biology to develop technologies for genome and epigenome engineering to study neurobiology. Zhang played a central role in the development of both CRISPR technology and optogenetics, a biological technique that uses light to control cells in living tissue, usually neurons. Zhang’s group optimized the Cas9 system in human cells starting in 2011. They then compared their RNA expression approach with a design based on the Doudna / Charpentier chimeric RNA for use in human cells and established features of the guide necessary for Cas9 to function effectively in mammalian cells. Read his full bio.

Interview with Feng Zhang, PMWC 2019 Honoree- Neurobiologist Who Led the Development of Optogenetics and CRISPR

Q: What research are you or your lab focusing on and why, and what problem(s) are you trying to solve?

A: Our overall driving goal is to improve human health, and we do this largely through the development of new tools to study basic biology and the discovery of novel therapeutic approaches to treating human diseases.

Q: What excites you about your work?

A: There is a strong element of discovery to what we are doing – from finding novel microbial proteins that have never been studied before to figuring out an elegant solution to a technical problem at the bench – these moments where we know we are really on to something that will make a difference are the most exciting for me.

Q: Your lab was the first to successfully adapt CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing in eukaryotic cells. Can you tell us how this came about? 

A: I had been working on tools for genome engineering as a Junior Fellow at Harvard, and when I first started my independent group at the Broad Institute, I went to a seminar talk and heard about microbial adaptive immune systems known as CRISPR. The tools I had been working with were powerful but difficult to use, and I had been thinking a lot about how to make them easier to work with. CRISPR systems naturally solved the main challenge – the enzyme that targets DNA is guided to a specific sequence by a short, complementary RNA (by contrast, the enzymes I was working with recognized DNA sequences through amino acid residues, which meant the whole protein had to be re-engineered for each new target). I was immediately intrigued and started to read all I could about CRISPR systems, and trying to figure out how these systems could be harnessed for use in mammalian cells. Within days, I had started to work on it at the bench, and tried to be as systematic as possible in tackling the challenges of moving this bacterial system into mammalian cells.

Q: How will genome-editing affect health care and what are some of the key advancements that will positively impact the field? By when can we expect more routing applications in the clinic, agriculture, and other?

A: I think genome editing has already started to affect health care by accelerating the pace at which basic research in mammalian systems can be done. For example, it is possible to make a new mouse model of disease in a few months or less, whereas it used to take a year or more. Moreover, we can now easily create patient-specific mutations to better understand the molecular consequences of these changes. Another application of CRISPR systems is molecular diagnostics, and some of these platforms are already being deployed in the field to help monitor infectious disease outbreaks. Outside of health care, genome editing is being applied to a number of problems in agriculture, where it can significantly speed up the breeding process, a major bottleneck for improving crops.

Q: Recently the CRISPR technology has been challenged as a flurry of articles casted doubt on the overall safety as it can introduce imprecise, off-target modifications in the genome which can be a problem. a. What are your thoughts on this? b. How severe is the issue and can it be overcome?

A: There are still many open questions about the safety and efficacy of CRISPR-based therapeutics, and as a field, we are working to address these. For example, we and others have engineered more specific variants of Cas nucleases that exhibit very little off-target effects. Others are exploring the potential immunogenicity of CRISPR components, which will be very important to address before this technology can be used therapeutically. Clinical trials using CRISPR-based therapeutics in limited contexts are beginning this year, and as we see data from these studies, we will get a much clearer picture of what the outstanding challenges are.

Q: What are the short-term challenges that your scientific field is facing?

A: We need additional approaches for delivering CRISPR-based therapeutics (and other cellular and genetic therapies). We are currently quite limited in our ability to target specific organs and tissue types, and until we solve this, we will not be able to realize the potential of genome editing.

Interview with Lingbing Zhang of Yinuoke Ltd

Q: The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded recently to James Allison and Tasuku for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options. The Nobel committee hailed their accomplishments as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.” What is your first-hand experience the impact that those new drugs had on patients?

A: Although I don’t have first-hand experience with those new drugs, several of my friends asked me for suggestions because they know I have been studying cancer immunotherapy for 15 years.

Read More

Interview with Anton Iliuk of Tymora Analytical Operations

Q: What need is Tymora Analytical Operations addressing?

A: Virtually all of the current liquid biopsy assays are based on genomic information. But the active molecules in the body that are doing the work and undergoing changes during disease progression are actually proteins.

Read More

Interview with Pamela Munster of UCSF

Q: The Nobel Price in Medicine was awarded recently to James Allison and Tasuku for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options. The Nobel committee hailed their accomplishments as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.” What is your first-hand experience the impact that those new drugs had on patients?

A: Immunotherapy has completely changed the lives of many patients with melanoma, lung cancer and other type of cancers with tumors that have historically been difficult to treat.

Read More

Interview with Stephane Budel, Partner of DeciBio Consulting

Q: NGS is enhancing patient care through improved diagnostic sensitivity and more precise therapeutic targeting. Prominent examples include cystic fibrosis and cancer. What other clinical areas NGS will most likely to change the standard-of-care in the near future?

A: NGS has most drastically impacted the standard of care in non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) and oncology.

Read More

Note from Dr. Kim Blackwell, PMWC 2019 SV Immunotherapy Track Chair to PMWC Admin

Hi PMWC, The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded on October 1st to Dr. James Allison (MD Anderson) and Dr. Tasuku Honjo (Kyoto University) for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options.

Read More

Interview with Bastian Greshake Tzovaras of Open Humans

Q: Patient healthcare data aggregation and analysis is seen as both the panacea for tremendous breakthroughs in precision medicine and as one of its biggest challenges. Are both true and how so?

A: The promises and challenges around personal health data aggregation are two sides of the same coin: There is definitely a lot of potential in the aggregating all these data, especially as we are now collecting so much data about ourselves.

Read More

Interview with Feng Zhang, PMWC 2019 Honoree- Neurobiologist Who Led the Development of Optogenetics and CRISPR

Q: What research are you or your lab focusing on and why, and what problem(s) are you trying to solve?

A: Our overall driving goal is to improve human health, and we do this largely through the development of new tools to study basic biology and the discovery of novel therapeutic approaches to treating human diseases.

Read More

Interview with Clifford Reid of Travera

Q: What need is Travera addressing?

A: The cancer community is suffering from a lack of biomarkers that match drugs to patients. The NCI-MATCH study reported in 2016 that fewer than 10% of cancer patients could be matched to a therapy.

Read More

Interview with Michael Abramoff of IDx

Q: Artificial intelligence (AI) techniques have sent vast waves across healthcare, even fueling an active discussion of whether AI doctors will eventually replace human physicians in the future. Do you believe that human physicians will be replaced by machines in the foreseeable future? What are your thoughts?

A: There will always be a need for human physicians, if only for the often raised issue of the need for human interaction.

Read More

Interview with Carl June, University of Pennsylvania, PMWC 2019 Honoree: The Driving Force Behind The First FDA Approved Gene Therapy – Kymriah

Q: The track theme is on the topic “How do we accelerate and deliver on the promise of cancer immunotherapy?” What are some key promises regarding immune-oncology, that we can build upon and translate into reality and how can we expedite delivery?

A: The use of the immune system to fight cancer holds a promise as a general solution to cancer therapy.

Read More

Questions for Sharon Terry, Genetic Alliance- PMWC 2019 Honoree

Q: You are the CEO of Genetic Alliance. What is your role as the CEO and why is this organization so important?

A: I actually try to avoid formal roles as CEO; instead, I practice showing up fully for our community: our staff and all of the organizations under our umbrella. I strive to hold the space for others to be fully themselves and meet their full potential.

Read More

Q&A with Itai Kela of Israel Innovation Authority

Q: Israel is known as a leader in hi-tech innovation. Can you tell us about some of the breakthrough companies in digital health and precision medicine?

A: The Israeli life sciences industry continues to grow and improve its global position. Israeli entrepreneurs’ ability to take advantage of the excellence in academic research, wide government support and innovative ecosystem, contributes to the industry’s success.

Read More

A Traverse of the Elements of AI/Machine Learning Across Healthcare

AI and machine learning are poised to create a paradigm-shift in many areas of the healthcare sector. A recent Accenture report predicted that the AI/Machine Learning healthcare market could see an ELEVEN-FOLD INCREASE in value in less than a decade

Read More

Jessica Mega of Verily Discusses AI in Healthcare

Q: Artificial intelligence (AI) techniques have sent vast waves across healthcare, even fueling an active discussion of whether AI doctors will eventually replace human physicians in the future. Do you believe that human physicians will be replaced by machines in the foreseeable future? What are your thoughts?

A: In addition to the science, the art of medical practice is a critical dimension of patient care and that part of the human experience can’t easily be replaced by AI.

Read More

Interview Questions For Gertjan Bartlema of Celularity, Inc.

Q: Artificial intelligence (AI) techniques have sent vast waves across healthcare, even fueling an active discussion of whether AI doctors will eventually replace human physicians in the future. Do you believe that human physicians will be replaced by machines in the foreseeable future? What are your thoughts?

A: In my opinion, physicians will not be replaced by machines in the foreseeable future.

Read More
Johns Hopkins
University Of Michigan

The Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC), in its 16th installment, will take place in the Santa Clara Convention Center (Silicon Valley) on January 20-23, 2019. The program will traverse innovative technologies, thriving initiatives, and clinical case studies that enable the translation of precision medicine into direct improvements in health care. Conference attendees will have an opportunity to learn first-hand about the latest developments and advancements in precision medicine and cutting-edge new strategies and solutions that are changing how patients are treated.

Agenda highlights:

  • Five tracks will showcase sessions on the latest advancements in precision medicine which include, but are not limited to:
    • AI & Data Science Showcase
    • Clinical & Research Tools Showcase
    • Clinical Dx Showcase
    • Creating Clinical Value with Liquid Biopsy ctDNA, etc.
    • Digital Health/Health and Wellness
    • Digital Phenotyping
    • Diversity in Precision Medicine
    • Drug Development (PPPs)
    • Early Days of Life Sequencing
    • Emerging Technologies in PM
    • Emerging Therapeutic Showcase
    • FDA Efforts to Accelerate PM
    • Gene Editing
    • Genomic Profiling Showcase
    • Immunotherapy Sessions & Showcase
    • Implementation into Health Care Delivery
    • Large Scale Bio-data Resources to Support Drug Development (PPPs)
    • Microbial Profiling Showcase
    • Microbiome
    • Neoantigens
    • Next-Gen. Workforce of PM
    • Non-Clinical Services Showcase
    • Pharmacogenomics
    • Point-of Care Dx Platform
    • Precision Public Health
    • Rare Disease Diagnosis
    • Resilience
    • Robust Clinical Decision Support Tools
    • Wellness and Aging Showcase

Agenda highlights:

    • Five tracks will showcase sessions on the latest advancements in precision medicine which include, but are not limited to:
      • AI & Data Science Showcase
      • Clinical & Research Tools Showcase
      • Clinical Dx Showcase
      • Creating Clinical Value with Liquid Biopsy ctDNA, etc.
      • Digital Health/Health and Wellness
      • Digital Phenotyping
      • Diversity in Precision Medicine
      • Drug Development (PPPs)
      • Early Days of Life Sequencing
      • Emerging Technologies in PM
      • Emerging Therapeutic Showcase
      • FDA Efforts to Accelerate PM
      • Gene Editing / CRISPR
      • Genomic Profiling Showcase
      • Immunotherapy Sessions & Showcase
      • Implementation into Health Care Delivery
      • Large Scale Bio-data Resources to Support Drug Development (PPPs)
      • Microbial Profiling Showcase
      • Microbiome
      • Neoantigens
      • Next-Gen. Workforce of PM
      • Non-Clinical Services Showcase
      • Pharmacogenomics
      • Point-of Care Dx Platform
      • Precision Public Health
      • Rare Disease Diagnosis
      • Resilience
      • Robust Clinical Decision Support Tools
      • Wellness and Aging Showcase
  • Luminary and Pioneer Awards, honoring individuals who contributed, and continue to contribute, to the field of Precision Medicine
  • 2000+ multidisciplinary attendees, from across the entire spectrum of healthcare, representing different types of companies, technologies, and medical centers with leadership roles in precision medicine
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