Aloha student co-authors scientific paper before graduating high school
He hasn't even graduated high school yet, but Paul Mitalipov has already co-authored an editorial on gene editing in a major scientific journal.
Mitalipov, 17, will graduate from Aloha High School on June 8, serving as valedictorian before he goes on to Stanford University. That's an accomplishment on its own, but the high schooler also stands out for being tapped to help write portions of an opinion piece on the use of gene-repair tools to prevent genetic diseases. The piece, titled, "Principles of and strategies for germline gene therapy," was published in "Nature Medicine," a scientific journal.
The teen assisted his father, Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who directs Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy. Dr. Mitalipov published groundbreaking research in 2017 and garnered worldwide attention for his studies about the use of a gene-editing technique to prevent inherited diseases in embryos.
Following his discovery, he was named one of TIME Magazine's most influential people in health care in 2018.
Paul Mitalipov is listed as a co-author alongside his father and Dr. Don Wolf, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology at OHSU's School of Medicine.
Paul Mitalipov volunteered in his father's lab at OHSU last summer, but since the work done there is so highly monitored and regulated, he wasn't able to do much in the way of hands-on work. Instead, the teen was able to help out in other meaningful ways. Eventually, he was asked to help with the scientific paper and helped re-write certain sections of the essay, to make it digestible for the general public. He also helped curate and track down the graphic images to illustrate the piece, he said.
"This is a pretty big deal for me," the teen said Monday, June 3. "I was working on this all summer, we had to send it to Nature Medicine to get it peer-reviewed and they sent it back to us. We put a lot of work in to this, a lot of late nights editing."
In the wake of Dr. Mitalipov's findings on gene repair, a scientist in China announced last year that he'd implanted genetically modified embryos into a woman, creating genetically altered babies. Dr. Mitalipov spoke out against the practice, which he said was "the wrong way" to use the science.
Others in the scientific and medical community condemned the practice of germline gene editing and called for a permanent ban on the procedure. Dr. Mitalipov said he and Dr. Wolf hope to "give a way forward" to some of the ideas around the science of gene editing to prevent babies from being born with diseases, like those that stem from mitochondria, and show "what would be a safe and acceptable way to do it versus an unacceptable way."
"While this instant reaction is understandable, more than 30 countries, including China, already have regulations and laws in place prohibiting genetic modifications to the human germline," the authors wrote. "Thus, a pressing issue is not an additional moratorium or bans, but how to reinforce already existing regulations around the world."
"We developed a safe procedure that allows us to correct mutations in eggs," Dr. Mitalipov explained by phone Monday, the same day the editorial essay was published.
The soon-to-be high school grad isn't the first teen to co-author a scientific publication. His older sister, Danielle Nargiz Mitalipov, 20, also helped co-author papers when she volunteered in her father's OHSU lab while in high school. Paul Mitalipov recalls his father's work being discussed in some of his AP biology classes at Aloha High School and says he's become pretty familiar with the groundbreaking science.
"We've been talking about this in our household over dinner for as long as I can remember," Paul Mitalipov said. "I'm definitely considering biomedical engineering after volunteering in my dad's lab last summer. I'm remaining open and exploring all my options and seeing what my passion is."
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