A senior biotechnology executive spoke at a Distinguished Scientist Seminar Sept. 28 about their company, GemPharmatech, and its potential services for researchers on campus.
The seminar, hosted by the Medical Center, explored the different models of genetically engineered mice available for research labs. Zhiying Li, director of Life Science and Technology at GemPharmatech, a biotechnology company, promoted her company’s ability to provide labs with genetically engineered mice that make research more efficient and effective.
GemPharmatech uses CRISPR-Cas9 technology, a form of genetic engineering that modifies DNA by deleting or adding selected genes, on their mice to isolate the required genes. This process can take the form of deleting or overexpressing genes, both of which expand the possibilities of research.
Moshe Levi, interim dean for research, professor of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology, and chief scientific officer at Georgetown, said GemPharmatech’s services provide opportunities for research that wouldn’t be available otherwise.
“If you’re interested in a hormone, you can study by deleting that hormone, not only in the whole body, but also in each specific organ, like the heart, the kidney and the liver. Or, you can overexpress that hormone specifically, and determine the organ’s specific effects,” Levi told The Hoya.
Li explained that the ability to delete or overexpress genes in specific organs rather than the whole body would improve the effectiveness of drug therapy, especially drugs that target specific parts of the immune system. Overall, GemPharmatech has been successful with its usage of CRISPR-Cas9.
According to Li, the off-target ratio was less than 1%, meaning errors in the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing occurred in less than 1% of cases. Further investigation proved that over 99% of the time there were no errors, reinforcing the accuracy of GemPharmatech’s work.
Li also introduced GemPharmatech’s Wild Mouse Project, a new initiative that breeds wild mice with inbred mice to mimic the genetic diversity represented in human populations.
“Mice are great for research, but when it comes to this, maybe they have limitations,” Li said during her presentation, explaining the shortcomings of using inbred mice and the solution the Wild Mouse Project provides. “Hopefully this can become a tool for therapeutic development.”
Eleni Hughes, a postdoctoral researcher at the Georgetown University Medical Center, felt that the seminar helped researchers understand tools that they can use for their work.
“It’s important for researchers to be aware of the different technologies and resources available to us,” Hughes wrote to The Hoya. “This seminar (along with a reception where everyone was invited to mingle with the speaker) gave Georgetown’s medical community a chance to engage with GEMPharmatech about how their resources could be useful in our research.”
Li’s presentation highlighted opportunities for the research community to expand beyond their current work by using GemPharmatech’s technology to introduce isolated genes in mice and improve genetic diversity within the mice.
Levi believes that GemPharmatech could provide mouse research capabilities that Georgetown does not currently have.
“We don’t have those services here,” Levi said, referencing Georgetown’s research community. “We used to have transgenic knockout. It requires specialized people, specialized facilities, they figured it’s not financially feasible.”
Levi also said that by using GemPharmatech’s services, Georgetown would be able to have more research opportunities available on campus, citing brain disease as something that could be tested and potentially cured using the GemPharmatech models.
“They provide the services, because it’s a big company, they have the know-how to generate. It would take me a lot longer, and they do it all there.” Levi said.
Hughes said that the resources GemPharmatech provides will help with research in a variety of scientific research fields at Georgetown.
“I think they will be helpful for my group’s research, as well as other research groups in Georgetown’s medical research community,” Hughes wrote. “It was interesting to see such a wide range of mouse models and overviews of how they can be useful.”