MIT’s Feng Zhang Wins Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science

Boston, June 20, 2016, — MIT News reported on June 18 that Feng Zhang, a core institute member of the Broad Institute and an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, has been named a 2016 Tang Prize Laureate in Biopharmaceutical Science for his role in developing the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system and demonstrating pioneering uses in eukaryotic cells.
Dr. Feng Zhang (left) at his lab.

Zhang is also the W. M. Keck Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences with a joint appointment in Biological Engineering, MIT News noted. In January 2013, Zhang and his team were first to report CRISPR-based genome editing in mammalian cells, in what has become the most-cited paper in the CRISPR field.

“To be recognized with the Tang Prize is an incredible honor for our team and it demonstrates the impact of the entire CRISPR field, which began with microbiologists and will continue for years to come as we advance techniques for genome editing,” Zhang is quoted as saying. “Thanks to the scientific community’s commitment to collaboration and an emphasis on sharing across institutions and borders, the last few years have seen a revolution in our ability to understand cancer, autoimmune disease, mental health and infectious disease. We are entering a remarkable period in our understanding of human health.”

Although Zhang is well known for his work with CRISPR, the 34-year-old scientist has a long track record of innovation. As a graduate student at Stanford University, Zhang worked with Karl Deisseroth and Edward Boyden, who is now also a professor at MIT, to develop optogenetics, in which neuronal activity can be controlled with light. The three shared the Perl-UNC Prize in Neuroscience in 2012 as recognition of these efforts.

Zhang has also received the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award (2014), the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine (2014, shared with Charpentier and Doudna), the Tsuneko & Reiji Okazaki Award (2015), the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) Chen New Investigator Award (2016), and the Canada Gairdner International Award (2016, shared with Charpentier and Doudna, as well as Rodolphe Barrangou from North Carolina State University and Philippe Horvath from DuPont Nutrition and Health), according to MIT News.

The MIT News said one of Zhang’s long-term goals is to use genome-editing technologies to better understand the nervous system and develop new approaches to the treatment of neurological and psychiatric diseases. The Zhang lab has shared CRISPR-Cas9 components in response to more than 30,000 requests from academic laboratories around the world and has trained thousands of researchers in the use of CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing technology through in-person events and online opportunities, it added.

“Professor Zhang’s lab has become a global hub for CRISPR research,” it quoted MIT Provost Martin Schmidt. “His group has shared CRISPR-Cas9 components with tens of thousands of scientists, and has trained many more in the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology.”

“CRISPR is a powerful new tool that is transforming biological science while promising revolutionary advances in health care,” MIT News quoted Michael Sipser, dean of the School of Science and the Donner Professor of Mathematics at MIT.