A fruitful partnership extended

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A fruitful partnership extended

Two years ago, Cornelius B. Prior Jr., Esq., LLB ’62, established a collaborative research fund linking George Church, PhD ’84, the Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, with University of North Carolina School of Medicine staff led by Donald Budenz, MD ’87. Their research has borne fruit, and Prior wants to make sure it continues.

“I decided to extend my support … because of the success I heard about with respect to the work done last year,” Prior says.

Headshot: Cornelius Prior

The inaugural project supported by Prior focuses on developing a medicine that corrects the disease-causing genetic mutation in patients with retinitis pigmentosa. This disease degrades the retina, impairing vision and eventually causing complete blindness.

Church’s team has been building on the human gene-editing tool CRISPR (short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) “to specify the genetic sequence to be corrected,” which is key to tailoring medicines to each patient’s unique sequence. Cory Smith, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in Church’s lab, is taking a more targeted approach to this work by focusing on transposable elements—DNA sequences that can move within a genome and have the ability to self-replicate—and more precise gene editing.

Prior says he expects the collaboration “to be even more fruitful” this year because Budenz and his team have a unique source of postmortem human eye tissue that will allow them to evaluate whether substances that have shown promise in vitro or in mice will be effective when human tissue is involved.

Church says Prior’s $100,000 gift has enabled his team to develop and refine methods for correcting genetic and disease-causing mutations. He’s thankful Prior recognizes the critical nature of the work, which he says has “huge potential to improve the quality of life and cure disease.”

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