#WhyIScience Q&A: A molecular biologist builds genome-editing tools to treat genetic diseases
Greg Newby discusses the value of mentorship and his goals for his next career step.
What has been your approach to mentoring students?
I'm grateful I had the chance to mentor one rotation student and two undergrads while I've been here. I hope I’m passing on a little bit of advice from the mentors who invested time in me when I was an undergraduate and rotation student. I try my best to give them technical advice and direction for their research, as well as the freedom to explore things on their own and make mistakes. I think the best way to learn how to do something right is to do it wrong a couple of times first. It’s always possible that your trainees surprise you by finding a better way to accomplish a task that you might not have thought of yourself.
What have you found most rewarding about your work?
The most rewarding thing is hearing a trainee say they feel like they have learned something from the experience that they'll take with them in the future.
It would be perhaps even more rewarding if one of the editing methodologies I built ends up curing a patient or letting them have a better quality of life for more years. That hasn’t happened yet, but we're coming close. The technology our lab developed is already being tested in patients in clinical trials with some really promising early results. The potential is enormous and it’s really exciting that we could eventually treat millions of people who suffer from genetic diseases.
Some diseases I work on have existed for thousands of years, but I'm convinced our group has reached a point where we can develop tools that rewrite parts of the genome and bring hope, a longer lifespan, and greater health to people who didn't have those options available before.
What will you study in your new lab?
Although our genetic code is made of just four different components (A, C, G, and T), the impact of their precise arrangements in regulating gene expression are incredibly complex and can change depending on cell type and the cellular environment. Incorrect regulation can lead to genetic diseases. In my group, starting next month at the Johns Hopkins Department of Genetic Medicine, I aim to study the regulatory elements surrounding disease-associated genes. I will use the efficient genome editing tools we’ve developed in the Liu lab to re-wire these elements and form the basis of new therapeutics.