NEW YORK – Spanish scientist Francisco Martinez Mojica was on Wednesday in New York state to receive the Albany Med Prize, one of the most prestigious US awards in the medical area, for his outstanding paper on the development of the CRISPR-Cas9 genetic editing technology.
At the award ceremony in the city of Albany, Med Prizes were also presented to four scientists who contributed to the research: Emmanuelle Charpentier of France, Jennifer Doudna of the US, Luciano Marrafinni of Argentina and Feng Zhang of China.
The five were recognized by the prize committee for their work on CRISPR-Cas9, which enables scientists to eliminate and replace sections of DNA in the cells of any organism, including humans.
CRISPR-Cas9 “has revolutionized biological research in tens of thousands of laboratories worldwide” and has “provided new hope for the treatment of genetic diseases and more,” said the Albany Medical Center in a statement on Wednesday.
CRISPR is the acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” a DNA sequence found in the immune systems of simple bacterial organisms.
“Its potential future applications include the possible ability to cure genetic defects such as muscular dystrophy, eradicate cancer, and allow for pig organs to safely be transplanted into humans,” the organization said.
In addition, the technology is being used to try and modify genes and block HIV, and to try to change the DNA of mosquitoes that transport the Zika virus so that it cannot be passed to humans.
“Rarely has such a recent discovery transformed an entire field of research, as CRISPR has in biological research,” said Vincent Verdile, the dean of Albany Medical College and chair of the Albany Prize National Selection Committee.
The 53-year-old Mojica – an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Alicante in Spain – is considered the pioneer in the development of CRISPR technology and is the first Spaniard ever to receive an Albany Med Prize.
“His fundamental contribution to the knowledge of these components of bacteria for more than two decades makes him a leading scholar on the subject,” the Albany Center said of Mojica, who aspires to win the next Nobel Prize in Medicine and Chemistry.
To date, the Albany prize, which comes with a total stipend of $500,000, had been awarded to a maximum of three researchers, but this year an exception was made and the important contributions of five researchers were acknowledged.