Innovation needs to go with courage and imagination, says Professor Jim Sheu
The laureates of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine included Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice. Professor Sheu explained that the work on the HCV of the three scientists plays a crucial role, not just in the virus discovery and screening, but also in the viral culture and vaccination development that will follow to help prevent the risk of contagion and cancer. Professor Sheu emphasized that the research on hepatitis C virus will have a huge impact on the following scientific and medical development. It is a completely new discovery made from scratch, without previous studies that could serve as a reference. At present, HCV causes at least 400,000 yearly deaths worldwide, a threat to humanity much higher than that of such transmissible diseases such as HIV/AIDS or pulmonary tuberculosis. Thus, the remarkable work in this field was rewarded with a Nobel Prize.
“The achievements in the field of biomedicine all start from minor accidental discoveries and this is why every new result opens up a completely new research field”, said Professor Sheu. This year’s discoveries started from routine blood screening for possible infectious viruses, as in the past, and blood transfusions by donors who were not carriers of hepatitis A nor B caused the development of chronic hepatitis in the recipients. Later, the three scientists confirmed the existence of HCV. “These amazing discoveries pushed the biomedical research forward”. Sheu said that biomedical studies are never-ending and require incessant reading and learning to understand the newest research achievements. “Many high school students and teachers wondered, how come somebody as old as me still studies”, said Sheu.
“The discovery itself is not enough: innovation needs to go with courage and imagination,” said Sheu referring to the contribution to the discovery and development of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system by the awardees of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna. In the past, many research teams have attained several discoveries on the mechanisms of CRISPR-Cas, making the competition in this field fierce. The two laureates won the highest intellectual award for linking two fragments of small RNA (tracrRNA and crRNA) into one called guide-RNA that turns CRISPR-Cas9 – a microbial immune system, into “genetic scissors” for editing any defined genes in human cells.
The lecture by Professor Sheu gave inspiration also for the parents of high schoolers who came to attend the lecture. One of them promised to share the knowledge with their high-school daughter, hoping she will have a chance to come to the laboratory of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at NSYSU to learn more – a wish Professor Sheu already agreed to fulfill. Sheu emphasized that passion for learning is the most important driving force in scientific research and that in the future, he will help the students learn and improve, and cultivate future scientists together with NSYSU.
(Edited by Public Affairs Division)