CRISPR in a Box Educational Toolkit™ – a gene editing experiment developed by the Gene Editing Institute for teaching – and the videos are already being used in classrooms in Delaware; Goal to reach students of color
(Wilmington, Del. – Aug. 23, 2021)
ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute and DETV have partnered in the creation of an educational video series to inspire high school students to consider a career in one of the most exciting frontiers in science and medicine — gene editing. The message: CRISPR gene editing technology is poised to revolutionize the way we combat some of the most intractable diseases, such as cancer and sickle cell disease, and no matter who you are or what background you come from, the door is open for you to shape how we use this technology to ensure everyone can benefit from it.
Called “CRISPR in the Classroom,” the video series is available to schools across the United States and serves as a supplemental resource alongside the Gene Editing Institute’s CRISPR in a Box Educational Toolkit™, which provides teachers and students real-life experience with CRISPR. Creators of CRISPR in a Box were Eric Kmiec, Ph.D., director of the Gene Editing Institute and Brett Sansbury, Ph.D., discovery research group leader.
The video series focuses on sickle cell disease as an example of a disease that could someday be cured with gene editing technology. Sickle cell is a painful genetic disease that primarily affects Black populations. While many genetically inherited disorders involve multiple genes, sickle cell is caused by only one gene — making it easier to study and potentially find a cure. Through “CRISPR in the Classroom,” students learn from patients, medical professionals and scientists talking about the challenge and the hope for a cure.
“Many CRISPR labs across the country are looking to solve sickle cell, including our own, but imagine if we can expand the number and the diversity of scientists interested in CRISPR to help solve this and other diseases,” said Dr. Kmiec. “With significant funding from the National Science Foundation, we have begun this local and eventually nationwide effort to engage Black, LatinX and other underrepresented groups of students to consider genetic engineering.”
This summer, students from Appoquinimink, Middletown, and Odessa high schools in Delaware met at Appoquinimink in Middletown where they viewed the video series as part of a five-week gene editing program developed by the state of Delaware with help from the Gene Editing Institute. Brandywine and William Penn High Schools in Delaware will also use the videos in their gene editing courses this coming school year.
“The videos from the Gene Editing Institute helped my students better understand how far-reaching CRISPR applications are and how the technology can be used to prevent diseases like sickle cell in the future,” said Elijah Morsha-Taylor, science instructor at Appoquinimink High School. “They also learned about the societal impact of medical technology and how different communities relate to these technological advancements.”
The conversation and context
One of the main purposes of the videos is to allow for deeper conversations about inequity in access to science education and medical treatments for people of color, and to discuss the realities of the need for more scientists of color.
“We hope that this series can help high school students to begin a conversation with their friends and family members, and that they share what they’ve learned, along with their insights, to help build new trust and excitement about science and medicine — and the next generation of breakthrough technologies that can cure diseases and create better health,” said Janice E. Nevin, M.D., MPH, ChristianaCare president and CEO.
“All of us in the health care and medical research fields have a responsibility to do everything we can to learn from history, build back trust, and create a more equitable future so that the latest scientific discoveries that use tools like CRISPR gene editing can be available to everyone,” she said.
“CRISPR in the Classroom” consists of conversations with medical professionals about sickle cell disease with commentary from patients. It demonstrates how gene editing is helping sickle cell disease, and it also includes a demonstration of how to use the CRISPR in a Box kit in hands-on learning about the technology of gene editing. It also includes a conversation about race, gender and the scientific journey with young scientists from the Gene Editing Institute.
One video in the series includes a roundtable discussion with five young research scientists and a medical student who share a frank discussion about race, gender and their own personal journeys. They suggest that more inclusive environments in science and medicine can help build trust and eventually lead to the elimination of health disparities.
“The more you see people like yourself entering careers in science and medicine, the more you think ‘I can achieve that,’” said participant Indigo Johnson, a medical student who spent time as a lab technician at the Gene Editing Institute.
“When you see someone like yourself explaining CRISPR technology to you, it becomes more relatable,” she said. “Talking to younger students, getting them interested in science can fuel a spark. Some kids have an interest in science or medicine but when they don’t see scientists or doctors who look like them, they don’t think a career in science or medicine is achievable.”
To help ensure the community connection and voice in the video series, the Gene Editing Institute tapped DETV as its production partner.
“DETV was thrilled to partner with the Gene Editing Institute to create an educational resource for high school students that will be especially beneficial in Black and brown communities to help them learn about the revolutionary CRISPR technology,” said Ivan Thomas, founder of DETV. “We hope the series will inspire the scientists of tomorrow to come from communities of color to join in the fight to use CRISPR gene editing and to find cures for diseases that predominately impact those communities, such as sickle cell disease.”
“CRISPR in the Classroom” is already resonating with scientific and educational organizations beyond the local Delaware community.
“The further development of your program to educate students and instructors in CRISPR gene editing techniques will support the increased implementation of gene editing in educational programs, bioscience companies and research laboratories throughout the nation,” said V. Celeste Carter, Ph.D. program director, Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation.
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About ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute
The Gene Editing Institute, a worldwide leader in CRISPR gene editing technology and the only institute of its kind based within a community health care system, takes a patient-first approach in all its research to improve the lives of people with life-threatening disease. Since 2015, researchers at the Gene Editing Institute have been involved in several ground-breaking firsts in the field, including the development of the first CRISPR gene editing tool to allow DNA repairs outside the human cell which will rapidly speed therapies to patients and a unique version of CRISPR called EXACT that reduces the number of off-target edits to other areas of the genome, which is vital for further research and patient applications. Its researchers are currently developing a patient trial for lung cancer using CRISPR technology.