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BioE Seminar: Directed evolution of new viruses for therapeutic gene delivery

Event Type
Bioengineering Department
2310 Everitt Lab
Apr 16, 2019   11:30 am  
David Schaffer, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Berkeley
Originating Calendar
Bioengineering calendar


Gene therapy has experienced an increasing number of successful human clinical trials – particularly ones using delivery vehicles or vectors based on adeno-associated viruses (AAV) –and this progress recently led to the first FDA approval of an AAV-based gene therapy (for LCA2, a blinding disorder) in December, 2017.  These clear successes have been made possible by the identification of disease targets that are suitable for the delivery properties of natural variants of AAV.  However, vectors in general face a number of barriers and challenges that limit their efficacy for other disease targets, including pre-existing antibodies against AAVs, suboptimal biodistribution, limited spread within tissues, an inability to target delivery to specific cells, and/or limited delivery efficiency to target cells. These barriers are not surprising, since the parent viruses upon which vectors are based were not evolved by nature for our convenience to use as human therapeutics.  Unfortunately, for most applications, there is insufficient mechanistic knowledge of underlying virus structure-function relationships to empower rational design improvements.

As an alternative, we were the first to develop and have since been implementing directed evolution – the iterative genetic diversification of the viral genome and functional selection for desired properties – to engineer highly optimized, next generation AAV variants for delivery to any cell or tissue target.  We have genetically diversified AAV using a broad range of approaches including random point mutagenesis of the viral capsid (which is responsible for its gene delivery properties), insertion of random peptide sequences into the AAV capsid, recombination of a number of AAV parental variants to create random chimeras, and construction of ancestral AAV libraries.  The resulting large (~108) libraries are then functionally selected for substantially enhanced delivery, yielding AAVs capable of highly efficient and targeted delivery of cargoes for therapeutic gene replacement and gene editing in numerous models of human disease.  This work thereby establishes a path for translating engineered AAVs into human clinical trials.


A faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, David Schaffer applies  engineering principles to enhance stem cell and gene therapy approaches for neuroregeneration. This work includes mechanistic investigation of stem cell control, as well as molecular evolution and engineering of viral gene delivery vehicles. He has received an NSF CAREER Award, Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, Whitaker Foundation Young Investigator Award, and was named a Technology Review Top 100 Innovator. He is an AIMBE Fellow, and he won the American Chemical Society Marvin Johnson Award in 2016. He earned his PhD in chemical engineering from MIT.

More about Professor David Schaffer. 

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