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Focus: Synthetic success


The University of Oxford’s Dr Jia-Ling Ruan and Synthego COO Ted Tisch set out how the company’s synthetic sgRNA grant will aid efforts to improve the treatment of bladder cancer

Genome engineering solutions provider Synthego recently selected the University of Oxford, UK, as one of the recipients for an exclusive synthetic sgRNA grant worth a total of $160,000, which is intended to help scientists more effectively carry out CRISPR gene editing research. It’s hoped that the award will enable the Oxford-based team to identify ways to improve the success of radiation therapy in muscle invasive bladder cancer and reduce its toxic effects.

To find out more, Pan European Networks spoke to the university’s Dr Jia-Ling Ruan, a postdoctoral researcher at the Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology, who here explains what CRISPR gene editing and the Synthego grant mean for his research.

What would you say have been the biggest impacts of the CRISPR gene editing system on your field of research?

The CRISPR gene editing system offers an easy and efficient tool to recapitulate the genetic heterogeneity in cancer cells. Genetic instability is common in bladder cancer. Using this technique, we will be able to identify specific prognostic and therapeutic biomarkers for bladder cancer management.

What will the biggest benefits of using synthetic RNA be in your research to cure bladder cancer?

With the use of synthetic RNA, we will be able to create the genetically modified cell lines more efficiently and in a less time-consuming manner. These cell lines will be used in both in vitro and in vivo testing to optimise our chemoradiation procedure in treating bladder cancer.

What does receiving the grant from Synthego mean to your research efforts? Where will your priorities lie?

It is really an honour to receive the grant from a prestigious company like Synthego. My colleagues and I are all really excited about this grant from Synthego, and about the synthetic RNA-based CRISPR we will be able to apply to my research. The priority will be to generate some genetically modified bladder cancer clones to test their phenotypic functions.

What promise does enhancing radiation sensitivity hold for the future when it comes to therapeutic advances?

Enhancing radiation sensitivity of cancer cells can make the radiation therapy safer and more efficient. This will significantly improve the quality of life in cancer patients. As the cancer population ages, developing non-surgery-based therapy is crucial and organ-preserving methods like chemoradiation therapy can hopefully become the frontline treatment.

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope we will be able to acquire some good preliminary data from this synthetic RNA-based CRISPR technique for our future grant application. For the long term, I hope our research will be able to identify biomarkers for patient stratification and promote precision medicine.


Synthego COO Ted Tisch tells Pan European Networks why the University of Oxford proved to be one of the perfect candidates for its $160,000 grant, and outlines the importance of making synthetic sgRNA available to researchers.Why was the University of Oxford’s bladder cancer research a top candidate for your grant?

Reasons the University of Oxford was chosen include: novel therapy, publication timing, detail of their application, and the specific need for ‘synthetic’ RNA for their research.

What outcomes do you hope to see as a result of the $160,000 in grants you awarded (from the University of Oxford as well as the other institutions)?

We hope to see accelerated advancements in CRISPR research and to demonstrate its potential for discovery in a variety of research fields.

How does synthetic RNA make research easier, and how will the grants affect these institutions’ research?

Synthetic RNA accelerates CRISPR research by providing extremely high efficiency and reproducibility. It speeds up the research process by eliminating a significant amount of the time normally required to produce guide RNA in the lab (i.e. plasmid, IVT). Furthermore, the synthetic nature of Synthego RNA enables it to be chemically modified for enhanced editing in primary and stem cells, and is 100% DNA-free.

Why is it important for these types of products to be available to researchers in the UK?

CRISPR research transcends borders and applications. It is important for scientists to have access to the latest and most effective tools for their research. Synthego is providing a key component (synthetic RNA) to achieve amazing gene editing results, and the UK is one of the fastest growing regions we’ve seen.


















Dr Jia-Ling Ruan

Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology

Ted Tisch

COO, Synthego

This article will feature in issue one of Pan European Networks: Health, due for publication in May.

Pan European Networks Ltd