Week 4: More on CRISPR/Cas and NovogeneAIT

This week we had a more in-depth look at the CRISPR-Cas system for the lecture. I think that it is very exciting when you realise that we are still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the role and functions of Cas proteins in bacteria. And yet we have already discovered Cas proteins that are able to not just produce a double-stranded break but produce a single-stranded nick and even sticky ends. Repeatedly, however, seems to be that the real bottleneck of this technology is managing the offsite targeting effects. This still leaves room for error and with regards to clinical therapeutics, this is definitely something that you would want to eliminate as much as possible. We are however in a time when CRISPR-Cas system gene therapy is likely to see way more applications, as scientists continue to understand the functions and possibly uncover more immunological defence systems in bacteria that may help us too. The assigned readings (and their diagrams) really helped me to understand the mechanism of the different Cas proteins because initially, it was difficult to conceptualise. And the lecture helped to consolidate my understanding by reiterating what I had read beforehand.

I must add that the guest tutorial by Novogene AIT was a good addition to the week as it fed my interest in the business aspect of biotechnology. It must be quite hard to “stay ahead of the competition” all the time and is probably not as simple as the speaker had made it be. Understandably there are probably some marketing strategies he is unable to reveal, even though I wanted to know how exactly do they have intel about the latest software, technology etc. Trend analysis is also something that interests me, so I was glad to hear about how they work towards trying to predict the needs of their clients beyond what they request from them, showing them that the company is able to provide more services (and at the same time making more profit!). The idea of master contracts is also pretty strategic, instead of just targeting individual labs. With Singapore being very small, however, I can see why geographic segregation is also necessary. This idea of a concerted effort really pays off, not just in business but in everyday life. It is not efficient to divide your energy in too many places. As a service provider company, working closely with government agencies/authorities is probably a good move too. In Singapore where the government nowadays concentrates its resources on a lot of data-driven projects, such contracts provide a lot of stability and reputability. Lastly, the speaker’s comment on being a service provider in today’s economy really struck out to me. Being someone who is currently thinking about having my own business one day, it was really relevant advice. With today’s sharing economy, being a service provider is very advantageous and this business model has a lot of potential given the right service in demand!

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Week 3: SCIEX and CRISPR/Cas

I really enjoyed the field trip to SCIEX this week. I think that it is interesting to see how companies optimise their operations and also as a biotech company, how they continue to innovate and improve in an iterative fashion. They take into account not only customer feedback but even things like walking distance to optimise associate work efficiency.

As for the science technology, I think that its great that they are looking at forecasting the trends for mass spec analysis instead of just waiting on their customer demands. Having the best of both worlds in the QTRAP system is great for the future when we might be looking to analysing greater amounts in a shorter period of time, we will need to rely more on qualitative screening.

For lecture and reading, I enjoyed the review papers assigned to us. Gave me a comprehensive understanding of the mechanics of CRISPR/Cas9 system as well as the future modifications that can be done to it. Prof Liou did a good job in reiterating the reading material again, as well as the difference and advantages between RNAi and CRISPR. I think that RNAi has a lot of potential but it’s right to say that there is a lot of difficulty in getting it approved due to the off-target effects. Patisiran is the first RNAi approved as a therapeutic, so I think that there is way more that can be worked on this area.