What Is CRISPR Technology and How Does It Work for Cancer Treatment?
The CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique allows scientists to make changes in DNA more precisely than ever before. This article looks at the CRISPR technology, how it works and why its potential use for cancer treatment has excited researchers worldwide.
What Is CRISPR?
The acronym stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats,” which refers to a series of DNA sequences that make up a gene and tell cells where and when to copy (replicate) themselves.
Microbes evolved these genetic structures as an immune defence against viruses. Still, scientists can also use them as molecular scissors to guide RNA molecules that natural enzymes cut specific sections of DNA, allowing or disabling particular genes.
How Does CRISPR Work in Gene Editing?
CRISPR is not the only gene-editing technique, but it has revolutionized the field. It consists of two components: a “guide RNA” that tells CRISPR-associated enzymes where to ‘cut,’ and Cas9 or Cpf1, which are enzymes that cut DNA at specific points. You can easily program these to target exact locations within a genome.
Compared with other techniques, CRISPRs are relatively inexpensive to use, easy to design, and reliable in their results. This technology has many applications in biology and medicine, including agricultural biotechnology, to develop improved crops and animal models of human disease.
During its research improving crop plants, DuPont discovered that the CRISPR-Cas9 system could be used as a new tool for creating improved soybeans. The technology allows both gene targeting and precision breeding, which means that DuPont can now more efficiently create plants with beneficial traits such as increased yield or enhanced nutritional content.
Why Does CRISPR Technology Hold Such Promising Potential for Cancer Treatment?
It is vital to understand how tumors acquire resistance to conventional therapies such as chemotherapy or targeted drug therapies (biologics) to develop effective cancer treatments. Moreover, the most standard of care chemotherapies damage healthy cells in addition to killing cancerous ones – this takes a significant toll on patients’ quality of life and overall health.
A significant challenge in treating cancers with biologics is that many of these drugs are large proteins, which can be challenging to deliver to specific tissues within the body.
One promising approach involves modifying biologic agents with cell-targeting antibodies to accumulate at tumor sites rather than throughout the body. These modified molecules are known as ‘armed’ or ‘armored’ biologics.
CRISPRs offer a way to quickly and precisely inactivate genes involved in resistance or sensitization pathways, which will allow armed biologics to retain their therapeutic activity when they encounter mutations that would otherwise reduce their efficacy.
This ability could help improve response rates in patients treated with armed biologics, including those who have developed resistance after initially responding to treatment.
What Are Some of the Possible Applications of CRISPR Technology for Cancer Treatment?
In addition to armed biologics, several other applications of the technology could benefit cancer patients.
In many cases, researchers can use CRISPRs as a tool to more precisely control how much gene expression is affected by mutation or deletion – this makes it easier for scientists to identify which cells and molecules contribute to particular traits such as drug resistance.
For example, researchers could use CRISPRs to develop models of cancer and preclinical testing platforms that more accurately reflect what happens in humans than current methods.
This has important implications for those working on next-generation immunotherapies. It will be possible to quickly identify resistant mutations and then counter them by applying a synthetic lethal approach using CRISPR technology.
This could give rise to the development of cancer treatments that are more effective and have fewer side effects – this is an essential goal for many researchers in the field.
Why Have Chinese Researchers Lost a Patent Fight over CRISPR?
Feng Zhang has been granted patents related to CRISPR for use in eukaryotic cells (cells with nuclei). For those who don’t know:
A researcher at the UCB named Jennifer Doudna first discovered how Cas9 could be used to edit genomes. Still, the team applied their work to prokaryotic cells (bacteria). Zhang was the first to use CRISPR in eukaryotic cells.
In addition, his work helped make it much easier for scientists to do CRISPR editing, which independent researchers have widely praised.
Based on these patents, the Broad Institute claims that its technology is necessary for virtually all gene editing in plants and animals – a position that other institutions have challenged in court.
Specifically, a US federal appeals court in Washington upheld a ruling from an administrative patent judge who decided that none of the claims from the Broad’s patents were eligible for protection.
The technology can be especially effective in treating several ailments and conditions and is a great feat for the world of technology and science.