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Novel CRISPR system can stop cancer in its tracks

Updated Jan 4th, 2023 4:20PM EST
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  • Scientists have developed a new system using the CRISPR genome-editing system to attack and kill cancer cells.
  • The system targets cancel cells directly and, like “scissors,” cuts their DNA, killing them.
  • Additional trials and testing are needed, but the promising new system could eventually be used to fight cancer in humans.

The fight against cancer has been ongoing since, well, pretty much since human doctors realized that it was deadly. There have been many advancements in the battle against the disease, though a true cure has always seemed out of reach. Researchers at Tel Aviv University believe they are making progress toward that incredible goal with the help of the CRISPR genome-editing system.

As the scientists explain in a new paper published in Science Advances, the tool that was developed in the hopes of correcting potentially harmful genetic quirks may prove to be the ultimate tool for destroying deadly cancers. The team’s research has revealed that by using what they describe as a “novel lipid nanoparticle-based delivery system,” they can target cancer cells specifically and effectively kill them off with no chance that they will reactivate.

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The description of how the system works to attack cancer cells sounds absolutely incredible. The scientists used the nanoparticles to send a message to the CRISPR enzyme Cas9 to target cancer cells and act “as a molecular scissors” to slice the cell’s DNA, killing it.

The researchers sought to prove that the system works by targeting glioblastoma and metastatic ovarian cancer, which are two of the cancers with the highest mortality rate. They’re notoriously aggressive cancers and claim many, many lives every year. When targeting these cancers in mice, a single treatment with the novel CRISPR system doubled the survival rate of the animals. That’s after just a single round of treatment, which is pretty incredible.

“This is the first study in the world to prove that the CRISPR genome editing system can be used to treat cancer effectively in a living animal,” said Professor Dan Peer, co-author of the research, said in a statement. “It must be emphasized that this is not chemotherapy. There are no side effects, and a cancer cell treated in this way will never become active again. The molecular scissors of Cas9 cut the cancer cell’s DNA, thereby neutralizing it and permanently preventing replication.”

Going forward, the researchers want to try their hand at tackling other kinds of diseases, including blood cancers and genetic diseases to see how much of a difference the gene-editing system can make. If the trials prove promising, we may soon see CRISPR used for a variety of ailments, and perhaps even as a promising tool for wiping out many types of cancers.