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Gene editing

Tel Aviv University researchers combine nanotechnology and the CRISPR genome editing system to destroy metastatic cancer cells.

By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have demonstrated that the CRISPR method of gene editing is very effective in treating metastatic cancers, a significant step on the way to finding a cure for cancer.

“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 Prof. Dan Peer who oversees the research program.

“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,” Peer said.

The Israeli researchers use CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a groundbreaking technology that can edit genes and in the words of New Scientist Magazine “will likely change the world.”

“The essence of CRISPR is simple: it’s a way of finding a specific bit of DNA inside a cell. After that, the next step in CRISPR gene editing is usually to alter that piece of DNA,” the magazine explains.

The Tel Aviv researchers went after the most aggressive cancer, known as metastatic cancers. This is the type of cancer in which cancer cells break away from where they first formed to create new tumors – metastatic tumors – in other parts of the body. This is the most deadly stage of cancer, also called stage 4 cancer.

“The technology that our system is based on, the CRISPR genome editing technology, enables us to basically modify and disrupt any gene of interest in any cell type we want,” said Dr. Daniel Rosenblum, from TAU’s Laboratory of Precision Nanomedicine. “It enables us to basically modify and disrupt any gene of interest in any cell type we want so the possibilities are basically endless.”

Prof. Peer explains the team created a strategy to target cancer cells in a very specific manner, “delivering messenger RNA that encodes for a protein that cuts the DNA” of the cancerous cells.

According to the study, treatment with CRISPR-LNPs in a metastatic ovarian cancer in lab mice increased their overall survival rate by 80%.

Doctoral student Anna Gutkin said the team focused on two of the most aggressive types of cancer.

“We really believe that we can treat not only these diseases, but open new avenues for new therapeutics for other cancers and other genetic diseases.”

Peer says that of the more than 500 different types of cancer, some have unique genetic hallmarks, and the Tel Aviv lab’s technology is used to target those specific cancers.

“That could be specific blood cancers, it could be glioma brain tumors, and it could be ovarian cancers as well that have metastasized already,” Peer said.

“We believe that a single treatment or maybe two or three treatments, but no more than this, will probably be effective enough in order to extend survival, but also improve the quality of life.”

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