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Kim Jin-soo, recipient in science

Scientist revolutionizes genome research with ‘genetic scissors’

May 20,2017
So-called “genetic scissors” allow one to edit the human genome to treat diseases and may soon receive attention from the Nobel Prize committee.

The internationally known scientific journal, Science, called it the “2015 Breakthrough of the Year,” and last year the MIT Technology Review named it one of 10 technologies that will change the world. Kim Jin-soo, 52, director of the Center for Genome Engineering at the Institute for Basic Science, chemistry professor at Seoul National University and winner of this year’s Yumin Award in science, is a world leader in the field.

He worked on his post-doctorate at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1990 under the tutelage of Carl Pabo, an eminent authority in biophysics, and was involved in developing genetic scissors.

He was the first in the world to edit human genes using the Crispr-Cas9 protein, or third-generation gene scissors, in 2012.

Kim is responsible for the term “programmable nuclease,” and has written over 70 pages of research on genome editing with 20 patents in the United States and across the globe.

Genetic scissors are not actual scissors, but artificial enzymes inserted into the genome with the objective of either altering or eliminating particular regions that may prevent diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

This is in contrast to gene therapy, which uses viruses for delivery and does not eliminate or amend DNA.

Several years were required for the fashioning of genetic scissors in the past, but now one day is all that is necessary.

“After the third generation, Crispr, appeared, anyone can easily edit with this technology,” said Kim. “The scientific community is saying, ‘The Crispr revolution has arrived.’”

He is also the majority shareholder of ToolGen, a biotech company specializing in genome editing technology. The objective of ToolGen is the development of medical treatments through genome editing and regulation, and it is in the research stages of animal testing.

Immediately after returning from the United States in 1997, he had a brief stint at the Samsung Biomedical Research Institute (now the Research Center for Future Medicine), and it was in 1999 that he co-founded the company for genetic scissors technology, acting as CEO of ToolGen until 2005.

ToolGen was listed as a small and medium-sized enterprise at the Korea New Exchange (KONEX) in 2014, and now their market value stands at 250 billion won ($223.75 million).

Kim was appointed by the chemistry department at SNU in 2005, and since 2014 has acted as director of the IBS Center for Genome Engineering.

BY CHOI JOON-HO [hwang.hosub@joongang.co.kr]


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