A new genome-editing tool could be used to target and kill blood cancer cells with a high level of accuracy.
Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have developed the technique and found it capable of destroying human lymphoma cells by locating and deleting an essential gene for cancer cell survival.
Their research, which is published in the journal Cell Reports, delivers a 'proof of concept' for using the method to treat a number of human diseases that arise from genetic 'errors'.
Called CRISPR, the technology was adapted to delete MCL-1, a gene that has been known to keep cancer cells alive.
Dr Brandon Aubrey and Dr Marco Herold, who lead one of the most advanced CRISPR laboratories in Australia, said the study shows that the technology can directly kill cancer cells by targeting factors that are essential to its survival and growth.
Dr Aubrey, who is also a haematologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, said the team used the CRISPR technology to target and directly manipulate genes in blood cancer cells.
He said. "Our study showed that the CRISPR technology can directly kill cancer cells by targeting factors that are essential for their survival and growth. As a clinician, it is very exciting to see the prospect of new technology that could in the future provide new treatment options for cancer patients."
The CRISPR technology works by efficiently locating particular genes that are crucial for the rest of the genome. From this, it can then target the gene to introduce mutations that make it non-functional or even introduce changes that make mutated genes function normally again.
The study showed for the first time that it is possible to use CRISPR technology as part of cancer therapy and could also be used in treating any disease that is caused by genetic mutations, said Dr Herold. He added that the quick speed at which DNA is now able to be changed and altered will also accelerate basic research discoveries in the lab.
This is of particular interest to pharmaceutical companies and they are already investing in the technology to allow it to be further developed.
"There is a lot of excitement and a significant amount of resources being invested worldwide to use CRISPR technology for treating patients," Dr Herold said. "The technology can directly target any gene in the person's genome, therefore overcoming many common drug development problems."
Currently, more than 50 research groups across Australia are working on how to adapt the new technology for their own studies, as the method has a number of advantages over existing tools.
Posted by Phillip Briggs
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