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CRISPR Can Make Cancer Cells Kill Cancer

Jul 13, 2018 07:13 PM EDT
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Scientists may have found an ingenious way to kill cancer cells using CRISPR technology to turn them against one another.

Gene editing might be the future of cancer treatment as suggested in new research spearheaded by scientists at the Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Using CRISPR And Cancer Cells' Behavior

The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, reveals that CRISPR-edited genes showed great promise in improving survival among mice with brain cancer and breast cancer that spread to the brain.

The key lies in the cancer cells' self-homing behavior, where the cells that migrated to other parts of the body go back to the original tumor. While the behavior is perplexing, it has prompted a lot of treatment ideas, although many attempts have struggled.

In this new approach, the CRISPR technology is used to reengineer the returning cells to attack its fellow cells in the original tumor.

Study author Khalid Shah MS, PhD, describes this groundbreaking advancement as simply "the tip of the iceberg."

"Cell-based therapies hold tremendous promise for delivering therapeutic agents to tumors and may provide treatment options where standard therapy has failed," he explains in a statement. "With our technique, we show it is possible to reverse-engineer a patient's own cancer cells and use them to treat cancer. We think this has many implications and could be applicable across all cancer cell types."

Shah is the director of the Center for Stem Cell Therapeutics and Imaging at the Brigham and Women's Hospital Department of Neurosurgery. He is also part of the faculty at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

The Mice Trials

For the study, Shah and his team took tumor cells from the mice and then used CRISPR to edit these cells into activating a self-destroying receptor on the cells in the original tumor. These genome-edited tumor cells are then injected back into the mice.

With their inherent self-homing ability, the cells made their way back to the three tumors the study researchers were testing: primary glioblastoma, recurrent glioblastoma, and breast cancer that metastasized to the brain.

In the primary and recurrent glioblastoma, which is a lethal kind of brain cancer, the treatment resulted in tumor shrinkage. Ninety percent of the mice survived weeks or months after they were treated.

In the mice with cancer metastasized to the brain, half survived for several weeks after the treatment.

The reengineered cancer cells are killed off with a simple drug.

Moving Forward

This method is still a long way from solving the problem of cancer, but it's a positive step forward for scientists hoping to lower the risks in the future.

Further studies and testing are necessary, especially since the treatment does not address the risks of distant metastases. While the CRISPR-edited cells were able to eliminate the original tumor, metastases can be in multiple organs and are actually responsible for over 90 percent of cancer fatalities.

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