St. Georges Technical High School in southern New Castle County, Delaware is the first high school in the United States to use ChristianaCare Gene Editing Institute's innovative CRISPR in a Box Educational Toolkit™ in a science class.
CRISPR in a Box brings to life the much-heralded CRISPR gene editing technology - the "genetic scissors" that allow scientists to edit DNA. The toolkit is designed for educational sessions in secondary and post-secondary schools and is suitable for remote learning.
"Gene editing is the future of medicine," said Eric Kmiec, Ph.D., director of ChristianaCare's Gene Editing Institute. "Our partnership with the Delaware Department of Education will help cultivate the next generation of genetic scientists and enhance Delaware's position as a leader in the biosciences."
"We are thrilled that students at St. Georges Technical High School will be the first In the United States to experience a live demonstration of CRISPR gene editing using our Innovative CRISPR in a Box educational toolkit," said Siobhan Hawthorne, Education and Community Outreach leader at ChristianaCare's Gene Editing Institute. "This toolkit will provide STEM students with a visual understanding of how the exciting CRISPR technology can unlock medical treatments to improve lives."
Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting praised her department's partnership with ChristianaCare's Gene Editing Institute to develop the "Seeds of STEM" course that teaches high school students about gene editing.
"Gene editing approaches diseases in new ways and will have significant impact in the health care and agriscience fields," Bunting said. "This is a great example of an industry and education partnership investing in youth by providing hands-on knowledge and skills around emerging technology."
"We are so fortunate that ChristianaCare's Gene Editing Institute reached out to our program to plan a high school 'first' opportunity with this new CRISPR experiment," said Danya Espadas, one of the St. Georges biotech teachers. "Giving students the chance to use a cutting-edge, 21st century tool for medicine in their own high school lab - to have that technology at their fingertips - transcends what they see in a textbook or a video. By being able to do it themselves, it makes it real for them."
Espadas said the experiment focuses on editing a gene of a non-infectious E.coli bacteria to become resistant to an antibiotic, thereby allowing researchers to create a new class of antibiotics that cannot be overcome by bacteria that are gene resistant.
"We're talking about eventually saving lives, here," she said. "What can be more important than that?"
The tools in CRISPR in a Box have been designed based on the pioneering discoveries of the Gene Editing Institute that are currently being used to explore next-generation medical therapies and diagnostics for diseases, including lung cancer and sickle-cell anemia. Component items in the toolkit include the CRISPR/Cas complex, a target DNA molecule, a mammalian cell free extract and a synthetic DNA molecule.
All materials in the kit are safe, synthetic materials. There are no live cultures or viruses involved. The kit is meant to provide a hands-on demonstration of CRISPR's capabilities, and not allow for manipulations of living organisms.
"The kit is easy and fun to use," said Kristen Pisarcik, research assistant at the Gene Editing Institute who has taught students at Delaware Technical Community College which first used the toolkit. "In a short period of time students will reliably and successfully complete the laboratory activity and be able to see the results of gene editing," she said.
Since the foundations of the kit touch upon key themes in biology, it can be readily incorporated into practically any science or biology course with a laboratory component,
"One of the beauties of CRISPR in a Box is that there is no need to purchase specialized equipment. If a teaching lab can support bacterial cultivation, it can perform the in vitro gene editing lab activity," Pisarcik said.
CRISPR in a Box is the evolution of a partnership between the Gene Editing Institute, Delaware Technical Community College and Rockland Immunochemicals that began in 2017 with a National Science Foundation grant to develop the first-ever gene editing curriculum for community college students.
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 and employing the technology to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
About the biotech program St. Georges Technical High School
The Biotech career program of study at St. Georges Technical High School is the first such program offered in a Delaware high school. With two teachers and approximately 100 students in grades 10-12, the program presents advanced content in biology and chemistry with opportunities for students to learn basic laboratory techniques and procedures and to maintain and operate common instruments and equipment used in a biotechnology laboratory. St. Georges is a comprehensive career and technical high school with 1,100 students who study in one of 16 different career pathways.