By Alex Bellury, Senior Writer

Thursday, July 12, 2018

(NEW FRONTIER NEWS) – Scientists have found a way to turn cancer cells against their own kind using gene editing.


When cancer cells are circulating in the bloodstream, they are able to find and return to the tumor they originated from. To take advantage of that, scientists engineer the rogue cancer cells to release a protein that kills resident cancer cells. The cancer-fighting cancer cells will self-destruct shortly after so they don’t start any tumors themselves.


Other attempts to kill cancer cells with cancer cells have been made, but none with gene-editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9 that give cells specific properties, like the ability to self-destruct to prevent making their own tumors.


“The new twist here is the use of CRISPR-based technology to add resistance or sensitivity features to the parental cells,” says Renata Pasqualini, a cancer biologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in Newark.


It took several steps to develop the technique. First, scientists had to find a protein that would kill many different types of cancer cells. The protein that was most suitable was called S-TRAIL, which killed off different types of cancer cells and wasn’t harmful to healthy cells.


Then, scientists used two different approaches to send out the protein. The first used glioblastoma (a kind of aggressive brain cancer) cells that were resistant to S-TRAIL. Researchers made the tumor cells produce lots of S-TRAIL, and let them kill the cancer cells sensitive to the protein.


In the second approach, scientists took glioblastoma cells sensitive to S-TRAIL and took out the genes that communicate the sensitivity before giving them the protein.


Both treatments reduced the tumor size in mice and helped them live longer.


“Each approach has pros and cons,” says study co-author Khalid Shah, a stem cell researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.


Though still a long ways ahead, using cells that aren’t yet resistant to S-TRAIL in a clinical setting could be “a little bit cumbersome,” Shah says. It could let doctors take patients’ cells and turn them against the patient’s specific cancer. But the wait time for this approach would take too long for very sick patients.


“Cell-based therapies hold tremendous promise for delivering therapeutic agents to tumors and may provide treatment options where standard therapy has failed. With our technique, we show it is possible to reverse-engineer a patient’s own cancer cells and use them to treat cancer. We think this has many implications and could be applicable across all cancer cell types,” said Shah.


One other approach is to stock standard cells already resistant to S-TRAIL in hospitals for quicker treatment. Though being foreign cells, the patient’s body may reject them.




Begley, Sharon. (July 2018). CRISPR Makes Cancer Cells Turncoats That Attack Their Tumor. Scientific American. The United States.


Eurekalert Staff. (July 2018). Engineered cancer cells can fight primary and metastatic cancer. Eurekalert. The United States.


Hamers, Laurel. (July 2018). Cancer cells engineered with CRISPR slay their own kin. Science News. The United States.