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Spanish researcher awarded USA’s most distinguished prize in medicine
Francisco Juan Martínez Mojica, aka Francis Mojica (University of Alicante), is one of the five researchers to have been awarded the Albany Medical Center Prize in 2017. The United States’ second highest value prize in medicine and biomedical research was granted to Dr Mojica for his pioneering work on CRISPR and his contributions to the development of CRISPR-Cas technology.
The official press release highlights the important contributions made by Dr Mojica and the other four awardees – Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna, Luciano Marraffini and Feng Zhang – ‘to the development of CRISPR-Cas9, a gene engineering technology that harnesses a naturally occurring bacterial immune system process.’
CRISPR is an acronym for ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’, a DNA sequence found in the immune system of simple bacterial organisms. The discovery of CRISPR sequences in bacteria in the laboratory altered the course of medical research, as it was the key to the later development of gene editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9 that has allowed scientists to easily and efficiently edit genes by splicing out and replacing or altering sections of DNA in the cells of any organism, including humans (though most current research uses isolated human cells in labs and animal models only). For example, the members of a research team are using the gene editing technology to eradicate a mutation in embryos leading to a serious congenital cardiac defect.
About 25 years ago, Dr Mojica saw the importance of microorganism behaviour to treat or even cure diseases in humans by observing the microorganisms that thrive in extreme conditions in the Santa Pola salt lakes, in Alicante. This was the origin of his seminal discovery of CRISPR sequences.
Francis Mojica will get the Albany Medical Center Prize at a gala in Albany, New York, on 27 September. He has received many other honours, including the Lilly Foundation Award for Preclinical Biomedical Research 2017, the Rei Jaume I Award for Basic Research 2016, the Dr Balmis Award and the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award for Biomedicine. He was proposed for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2016.