Scientists Have Tricked Cancer Cells Into Fighting Each Other Using CRISPR

Friday, 13 July 2018 - 10:33AM
Medical Tech
Genetic Engineering
Friday, 13 July 2018 - 10:33AM
Scientists Have Tricked Cancer Cells Into Fighting Each Other Using CRISPR
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Image Credit: Pixabay Composite
CRISPR technology has come under a lot more public scrutiny in the past few weeks thanks in part to a cautionary segment by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, but it is not all bad news for the precise gene editing technology. According to reports, a group of researchers at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital have used the technology to make cancer cells attack one another.

The study, recently published in Science Translational Medicine, involved introducing a cancer-killing protein called S-TRAIL into cancer cells from mice. The CRISPR-engineered cells were then inserted back into the mice using two methods. The first used S-TRAIL resistant glioblastoma cells, which were edited to produce a lot of the protein to take out cells that were not resistant. Cells used in the second method were not resistant to S-TRAIL, so that sensitivity gene was cut out before the cells were made into S-TRAIL production factories. What the researchers found was that for mice with brain cancer and breast cancer that had metastasized to the brain, the CRISPR cells made their way to the main tumor (a process known as "rehoming") and killed cancerous cells. The tumors in the mice that received the treatment reduced in size and they lived longer compared to the mice who did not receive the CRISPR cells.

"The new twist here is the use of CRISPR-based technology to add resistance or sensitivity features to the parental cells," Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey cancer biologist Renata Pasqualini told Science News, because just using cancer to kill cancer is not a new idea. Study co-author Khalid Shah said that each of the two methods used had benefits and challenges, adding that using cells that were not already S-TRAIL resistant was "a little bit cumbersome." Challenges aside, the team is excited about what the study could mean for the future. "This is just the tip of the iceberg," Shah said. "Cell-based therapies hold tremendous promise for delivering therapeutic agents to tumors and may provide treatment options where standard therapy has failed. 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."

There is more that needs to be done before scientists can start using these CRISPR-engineered cells to fight cancer in humans, but it is a promising step forward. Now only if we can keep CRISPR kits in the hands of professions and not irresponsible amateurs.

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