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NIH awards OHSU nearly $4 million to test genome editing technologies

microscope image of a embryo having cells shaved off it
A small laser is used to cut away about 15 cells from the rhesus macaque blastocyst stage embryo (right) to determine if the embryo genome was properly edited. If the genome sequencing results are favorable, the embryo can then be transferred into a surrogate. (OHSU)

Recent advances in genome editing have made it possible to precisely change the DNA code inside living cells. The practice of correcting disease-causing genetic mutations may help to limit or prevent inherited health conditions; however, concerns about its safety and efficacy remain, resulting in a slow uptake of the technology.

To accelerate the translation of genome editing technologies into clinical application, the National Institutes of Health has awarded scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, nearly $4 million.

headshot of jon hennebold, looking at camera
Jon Hennebold, Ph.D.

“The introduction of this research model will provide broad insight into the therapeutic potential of existing and yet to be developed technologies,” said Jon Hennebold, Ph.D., chief of reproductive and developmental sciences at ONPRC, and adjunct professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “It will also help change the health care landscape by maximizing treatment opportunities for many diseases.”

OHSU is one of 21 institutions nationwide awarded funding as a part of the NIH Somatic Cell Genome Editing program. The scientists will develop a specialized rhesus macaque model that allows the accurate detection of off-target effects of genomic testing techniques and their efficiency prior to being used in humans. The model will allow for the testing and assessment of a number of gene editing techniques currently available.

Genome editing
(Left to right) Jon Hennebold, Ph.D., Carrie Hanna, Ph.D., Benjamin Burwitz, Ph.D. and Benjamin Bimber, Ph.D., involved on a project aimed at accelerating the translation of genome editing techniques into a clinical application. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

In addition to Hennebold, OHSU researchers involved in the project include Benjamin Burwitz, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at OHSU; Benjamin Bimber, Ph.D., research assistant professor of genetics at ONPRC; and Carrie Hanna, Ph.D., director of the assisted reproductive technologies core laboratory at ONPRC.

This work is supported by the National Institutes of Health Common Fund grant 1 U24 OD026631-01.



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