SCC Annual Meeting: Is CRISPR 'Bad' for Cosmetics?

Stanley Qi, Ph.D., presenting at the SCC Annual Meeting on CRISPR gene editing.
Stanley Qi, Ph.D., presenting at the SCC Annual Meeting on CRISPR gene editing.

Health, wellness and skin biology were at the heart of the SCC Annual Meeting "advanced" science track, presented concurrently with basic formulation sessions. The opening keynote, sponsored by Cosmetics & Toiletries, highlighted Frontiers of Science Award presenter Stanley Qi, Ph.D., of Stanford—a leading expert and pioneer in the application of CRISPR gene editing technology.

Qi opened with an explanation of the basics of CRISPR: "CRISPR is a genetic immune system used naturally by bacteria to eliminate exogenous molecules that can infect them. It is like a GPS, which guides proteins to certain 'addresses' where they can have different and multiple effects.

"One type of protein, called CAS9, has become broadly used due to its simplicity and efficiency. This enzyme acts as a 'Swiss Army knife,' to turn multiple genes on and off in different ways."

He also explained its implications for medical and health applications. "We almost have unlimited power to regenerate the human body," he said, noting how it could be used to repair skin diseases and trigger cells to act toward healthier skin conditions.

This stirred concern from the audience. "Is this bad news for cosmetics?" one attendee asked, suggesting it could push "active" products back to being basic moisturizers or sunscreens. Qi reluctantly agreed, to some extent, but explained the difficulty—albeit a possibility—to deliver these agents topically; at least for now. However, he added, "I do think it is possible, as nanotechnology delivery systems show promise."

Other attendees took a more positive spin, viewing it essentially as a new active and target—with the bonus that CAS9 is natural, since it is found in the body. In relation, another attendee asked whether CAS9 would need to be specific to individuals or phenotype; i.e., whether there is a "master switch" for all. Qi believes it could be a little of both, although this was speculation.

Overall, attendees were inspired by the talk, as they enjoyed the peripheral industry perspective and were intrigued by the topic. This was evident from the long line that formed after the talk, for one-on-one discussions.

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