Tricking Cancer Cells into Killing Each Other with CRISPR

A group of researchers has recently modified cancer cells using CRISPR that allows them to eradicate existing cancer cells without creating tumors of their own. They were not the first to attempt fighting cancer with cancer, however their innovative twist was the incorporation of genetic editing with CRISPR to give the cancer cells more sophisticated properties.

Fine-tuning this technique took many steps, the first of which being identifying a protein that can trigger cell death in various cancer cells. S-TRAIL was found to be the best fit, being that it can kill cancer cells without causing any harm to healthy cells. The researchers then set out to find a cancer cell that would be able to use this protein. In one approach, they used CRISPR to edit glioblastoma cells that were resistant to S-TRAIL to synthesize large quantities of the protein and allowed these modified cancer cells to interact with cancer cells that were sensitive to the protein. In another approach the team took glioblastoma cells that were sensitive to S-TRAIL and used CRISPR to edit out the gene for sensitivity prior to giving these cells the protein. Both techniques used CRISPR editing to make these modified cancer cells self-destruct after use.

Using both approaches in a study with mice, researchers found that the mice given either treatment showed reduced tumor size, and lived longer. The team notes that despite these promising findings, the method is far from use in humans. They note that each method has potential advantages and downfalls. The first approach would allow the standard S-TRAIL resistant cancer cells to be stored in large quantity in hospitals, however these foreign cells would be at risk of rejection from the patient’s body. The second approach has the advantage of utilizing the patient’s own cells, but to modify them to be S-TRAIL resistant would take time, a leisure that those with severe cancer cannot afford.

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Sources: Science News, Science Translational Medicine