Autodesk’s Andrew Hessel: Harnessing the Genome for Cancer

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Raw Science TV sat down with Andrew Hessel at Exponential Medicine 2016. Andrew Hessel is a futurist and catalyst in biological technologies, helping industry, academics, and authorities better understand the changes happening in life science. He is a Distinguished Researcher with Autodesk in their Bio/Nano Research Group, based out of San Francisco. He is also the co-founder of the Pink Army Cooperative, the world’s first cooperative biotechnology company, which is aiming to make open source viral therapies for cancer.

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How does AutoDesk support bionano research?

They are not reading or writing DNA. They provide the tools to design DNA code by taking genetic text editors to the next level. They have the most complex visual molecular tools available. At this stage, even visualizing complex molecules is an important step. If mathematical models of biological cells can be represented in a way that captures the underlying biology, it would bridge the gap between design/analysis and experimentation.

Making a virus without the touch of a human hand  

Autodesk famously created the first synthetic “life form” in 2014, a synthetic Phi-X174 bacteriophage. This can be done without the use of a human hand at any step.

What tools are used?

  1. Robotics Laboratories  Transcriptic is a robotic cloud laboratory with a fully automated cell and molecular biology laboratory, all from the comfort of a web browser. A biotechnology experiment can now be designed, executed, and analyzed from anywhere. View the workcell.
  2. Assay Depots  There are online marketplaces that “outsource everything but the genius” such as Scientist which simplifies the purchase of research services and may transform pharmaceutical research the way Uber transformed transportation.
  3. Molecular Viewers such as those used by Autodesk which is a web-based 3D tool optimized for viewing, exploring, and sharing of large-scale protein datasets from the RCSB Protein Data Bank directly in the web browser.
  4. Next Level Gene Editors such as the Genetic Constructor used by AutoDesk which is an extensible, open source, cloud CAD tool to drive biological design and complex DNA construction.

 

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What’s next? 

  1. Free Sequencing  Sequencing a full human genome will be free… and it won’t be long. The cost of DNA sequencing does not follow Moore’s Law and is decreasing much faster per the NIH.
  2. BioManufacturing  The machinery of the genome will be harnessed to biodesign fuels, natural diagnostics, cellular agriculture, and many other applications. Cells are the new machine.
  3. Creativity  As the tools of biotechnology become cheaper and more powerful than ever before, a new generation of industry and people that are just more creative will emerge
  4. Education  Programs like iGEM Foundation out of MIT, which is dedicated to education and competition, advancement of synthetic biology and the development of open community and collaboration, will foster that growth.

Andrew is confident that we do not need to invent writing the human genome but we need to properly harness it. How do we tell it what to do? There is a cultural discomfort with synthetic biology that will fade as its power is understood. Personalized medicine based on an individual’s genome will not just revolutionize medicine but also regulatory pathways. What is his hope? To leverage the capability of making a synthetic virus to fight cancer.

Not only can we count on Hessel to make good on this possibility – but also to keep science media honest in the process.

A Scientist Ripped My Screenplay a New Asshole Thanks to Hollywood’s Science Hotline 

– Keri Kukral, @kerikukral

mollow

 

 

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