Editing Cancer Cells to Fight Cancer Cells

CRISPR it the revolutionary gene-editing tool that is taking over the health and medicine world. It is now being used as a cancer-fighting mechanism through the editing the tumour cells to kill other cancer cells.

Cancer cells have this strange “rehoming” behaviour where they return to the original tumour after metastasizing – or spreading to – other sites. This perplexing behaviour has inspired many treatments ideas but yesterday, a promising study (that took 4 years to produce) was released in Science Transitional Medicine, stating that CRISPR might be another piece in the puzzle for treating cancer.


Biologist Khalid Shah, leader of the research team, said that since these cells “can track the original tumours, it is a matter of taming these cells to find the ultimate cure”. So, they set off on the journey to tame the cancer cells.

They tested 3 types of cancers, primary glioblastoma, recurrent glioblastoma, and breast cancer that had metastasized to the brain. First, after removing tumour cells from mice, they used CRISPR to edit cells to express a molecule that activates a receptor causing the cells to self-destruct. They then injected the cells back into the mice, and sure enough, they travelled to the tumours.

The mice with primary and recurring glioblastoma, experienced significant tumour shrinkage and 90% of them survived for weeks or months after the treatment. About half of the mice with breast cancer also survived several weeks after the cell treatment.

Of course, cancer cells are notoriously known for becoming resistant to treatments, so the researchers edited in a “suicide-system”, where when a particular drug is administered, the cells would die. This prevents the cells from repopulating the tumour sites.

Future research is encouraged by the research team, as only 5% of experimental cancer therapy will become an approved therapy after entering clinical trials. They also hope to address the question of what happens to distant metastases once the original tumor is destroyed? This is a critical part of cancer therapy because those tumors cause almost 90% of cancer deaths, not the original tumor.

It is stated that even since sending this work to the publishers, the researchers have gained more insight into this process of using cancer cells to kill cancer cells. Shah is planning a startup company to continue this exciting work.

Read the Published Journal Article:


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