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Scientists Use Gene Editing To Trick Cancer Cells Into Killing Each Other

Gene-edited cancer cells (green) attack tumor cells (red).  CSTI/Khalid Shah lab

Gene-edited cancer cells (green) attack tumor cells (red). CSTI/Khalid Shah lab

The battle against cancer is carried out on many fronts, such as surgery, drugs, preventative vaccinations, support for healthier lifestyles, and palliative care, They are important in the fight  against this terrible disease. In addition to all these measures, genetic alteration is another application available to take, and as a matter of fact, some promising new results have already presented themselves. Among them, the latest one has cancer cells turning on and killing off their own siblings.

This experimental approach is involved in a gene-editing technique called CRISPR to reprogram cancer cells that have departed the original tumor to actually go back home and kill the tumor from which they originated. In previous tests, these “homing assassins” have succeeded in three different malignant tumors in mice. The results have been released by the Journal of Translational Medicine.

As Dr Khalid Shah, corresponding author from Harvard Medical School and Harvard Stem Cell Institute said, it was just the tip of the iceberg, and cell-based therapies would be hugely  promising in delivery of therapeutic agents to tumors and might offer treatment options,which standard therapy could not.

In the eyes of Dr Khalid Shah, their technique would be likely to  reverse-engineer a patient’s own cancer cells and utilize them to treat cancer. Such technique did have many implications and could be available in use for all cancer cell types.

Dr Khalid Shah’s team had made best use of many cancer cells’ self-homing ability, because cancer used this ability to spread to other areas of the same organ, or to different organs. In fact, Dr Khalid Shah’s team had succeeded in turned such a “strength” of aggressive types of cancers into a weakness.

The team used two different approaches. The first used “off-the-shelf” tumor cells that were genetically engineered to have the subject’s immune fingerprint. The second approach instead had the cancer cells from the subject edited with therapeutic molecules inserted in. Both approaches also had kill-switches given to the homing cancer cells.

These two approaches had been tested in mouse models with primary brain cancer, recurrent brain cancer, and breast cancer that had spread to the brain. From the tests, researchers found evidence of the killer cells’ success in eliminating tumors and this treatment would enhance the survival of the mice.

Dr Khalid Shah was confident that their research had showed  the therapeutic potential of using engineered tumor cells and their self-homing properties to develop receptor-targeted therapeutics for different cancers. Although this study is still in the early stage, it has actually a lot of potential to be explored.

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