Michelle Richter '11
DNA mutations can be harmless. They can also cause incurable, debilitating and fatal diseases.
Michelle Richter ’11 is trying to change this.
Working with David Liu at the Broad Institute, she’s striving to discover novel ways to fix the kind of DNA errors that cause conditions from color blindness to cystic fibrosis.
“Recently, a tool to target and edit DNA, called CRISPR-Cas 9 was discovered,” Richter said. “My research focuses on developing new genome editing tools based on the CRISPR-Cas9 system to study, and potentially one day to treat, diseases caused by point mutations in the DNA.”
“A good example is sickle cell disease,” she added. “One single point mutation in the gene for hemoglobin makes it more challenging for red blood cells to carry oxygen. If we could fix the point mutation, we could improve the lives of people with this genetic disease.”
Richter’s interest in this type of work was piqued at Union, first on a term abroad in Italy, where she conducted research at a national institute. Then doing subsequent research with professor Kristen Fox, and in classes with professors Joanne Kehlbeck, James Adrian and J. Stephen Horton.
She hopes to take what she learned at Union, and since, to make a difference.
“I am motivated by improving human health. I am driven by projects where there is a potential therapeutic application, even if it isn’t immediate,” Richter said. “Developing tools for genome engineering is perfect for this.”
“Genome engineering has a lot of potential for treating so many devastating diseases. As I continue on in science, I hope to continue working on projects that can help people. My dream would be to work on a project that directly leads to a new drug.”