Senior Kelly Banas has already made a contribution to the medical field. The Medical Laboratory Sciences student participated in a breakthrough experiment that led to a research article on gene editing. Banas and her laboratory group work under the leadership of Eric Kmiec, director of the Gene Editing Institute at the Helen F. Graham Cancer & Research Institute at Christiana Care. Banas joined the laboratory group just over a year ago and was given a major role in a summer internship project.

A technique called clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats (CRISPR/Cas9), which was discovered in bacteria to fight virus attacks, has been used to edit DNA. The CRISPR/Cas9 technique, which makes a cut in DNA, can be used in conjunction with a short single-stranded piece of DNA called an oligonucleotide. The single stranded oligonucleotide serves as both a bandage and a template to repair the break. The CRISPR/Cas9 can be programmed to target a specific mutation or gene in the cell in order to correct the DNA sequence.

The laboratory group experimented on a cell, which contained a mutation in a gene that is responsible for making green fluorescence protein. When the protein is exposed to UV light, it glows fluorescent green. Because of the mutation in the gene, the cells could not make the protein. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 and oligonucleotide, they were able to repair the mutation and as a result, the protein was made by the cells. When checked under UV light, they were able to see green fluorescence meaning the mutation was fixed. They also used DNA analysis to make sure the genetic repair was made in the gene.

The discovery led to a feature article — Insertional Mutagenesis by CRISPR/Cas9 Ribonucleoprotein Gene Editing in Cells Targeted for Point Mutation Repair Directed by Short Single-Stranded DNA Oligonucleotides —  in the January 3, 2017 issue of PLOS ONE, a scientific journal that features reports of original research from all disciplines within science and medicine. Banas plans on continuing her education with her laboratory group throughout her post-graduate experience. She is hoping to pursue a PhD in Medical Sciences at UD, and plans to work in research.

Photo courtesy Christiana Care Health System