Every once in a while, there is a scientific breakthrough so major, it causes a paradigm shift in how scientists work thereon in. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna’s research leading to “genetic scissors” – a genome editing tool with huge implications for common diseases – is one such game-changer.
And now the two female scientists are being recognized for their efforts formally, with a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, one of the most sought-after awards in the life sciences, internationally.
“This technology has had a revolutionary impact…contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true,” the Nobel Committee said in announcing the prize.
Charpentier and Doudna’s tool, known as CRISPR-Cas9, lets scientists cut DNA at precise locations, allowing them to make specific changes to specific genes. Doctors have already used this tool to treat sickle cell disease, which disproportionately affects Black women and men.
“I was very emotional, I have to say,” said Charpentier in a press briefing. Charpentier has also called for regulation of the technology, so it is used ethically and so it can “improve the well-being of millions of people and fulfill its revolutionary potential.”
Historically, the Nobel Prize in chemistry doesn’t have a good track record of recognizing women in sciences; in the 119 years that committee members have been doling out the awards, and of the 185 individuals that have been awarded, only seven have been women. Awarding two female scientists at the same time is a clear move towards recognizing the important work women do in health sciences, and beyond.