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CRISPR Gene Editing is Changing the Game for Cancer Research

January 13, 2023

Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) is a type of technology used for genome editing. In recent years, CRISPR cancer trials have received increasing attention because of this technology’s exciting potential. Thanks to CRISPR, the future of cancer treatment now includes cell-based therapies and gene editing.




At its most basic level, CRISPR is a way to edit genes. CRISPR can change your cell’s DNA. It can also turn your genes on and off without adding, removing, or altering your genetic sequence.


Before the release of CRISPR results in 2012, scientists used other ways to edit the genomes of plants and animals. These methods took hundreds of thousands of dollars, which made them too costly for the average person. Because gene editing is now significantly more affordable, researchers have been considering CRISPR cancer treatment applications.


In June 2021, CRISPR trials in the United Kingdom and New Zealand demonstrated that CRISPR could edit genes within the human body. This particular trial was used on patients who had transthyretin amyloidosis. Besides gene editing for cancer and other diseases, scientists have used CRISPR for other purposes, such as:


  • Pest elimination.
  • Biofuel engineering.
  • Cell and gene therapy for humans.
  • Crop engineering.
  • Viral reproduction inhibition.
  • CRISPR cancer treatment.

What Types of Cancer Can CRISPR Be Used to Treat?


One of the significant focuses of CRISPR trials in humans is cancer treatment. Cancer is essentially a kind of disease where abnormal cells decide to divide at an uncontrollable pace. If the cells are malignant, they can end up invading healthy tissues.


While carcinoma is the most common cancer, people may also be diagnosed with sarcomas, lymphomas, multiple myelomas, or leukemias. Although all these things are considered cancer, few involve the same genetic mutation. For instance, some cancers involve mutated TP53, Rb, or BRCA1/2 genes.


Scientists can learn new ways to treat cancer by studying CRISPR cancer trials. CRISPR results indicate gene editing could be helpful for non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), metastatic gastrointestinal cancer, and esophageal cancer. It can also be used for B-cell malignancies, melanoma, T-cell malignancies, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), cervical cancer, and multiple myeloma.


Have There Been Any Clinical Trials Done to Test the Effectiveness of CRISPR?


Already, scientists have conducted many trials involving gene editing cancer treatments. For instance, a recent trial showed that CRISPR could change immune cells. In essence, the immune cells could recognize mutated proteins usually found on a tumor. After the modified cells found their target, they could destroy the cancerous cells.


In 2019, the University of Pennsylvania started the first clinical trial for CRISPR cancer therapy in the United States. The study tested how someone’s immune cells could be modified to find and kill their cancer. These CRISPR trials were primarily designed to find out if CRISPR was safe. In addition, scientists also discovered that the modified T cells helped two out of the three patients on a minor level.


What Are the Limitations of CRISPR?


While the future of cancer treatment and CRISPR is exciting, there are some limitations to this new treatment. One of the most significant issues is that CRISPR can cut DNA that it is not supposed to cut. This is called off-target editing. In one 2002 study, off-target editing even made some cells cancerous, which is the opposite of what scientists wanted to achieve.


CRISPR is a new technology, so scientists are still determining how the body will react to viruses that carry CRISPR. Because the bacterial enzyme used in CRISPR is foreign to the human body, the immune system could attack CRISPR-edited cells. Some scientists also worry that CRISPR-edited cells in the body could be passed on to future generations.


Additionally, scientists have needed help to get CRISPR components into cells effectively. Currently, the most popular method is to use a virus to carry CRISPR-edited genes into cells. Because the same virus may infect different kinds of cells, this method can cause CRISPR cells to end up in the wrong locations.


How Is CRISPR Being Used to Change Cancer Research and Treatments?


Currently, CRISPR is being used in labs to modify T cells. Then, these T cells are put into the patient’s body. Once this is done, they can begin attacking cancer cells. In essence, CRISPR is used to teach the individual’s immune system how to see and kill cancer cells.


While the future of cancer treatment will likely involve gene editing, CRISPR treatment options are still in their infancy. Early trials demonstrate that this can be a safe treatment option. In the future, CRISPR results will hopefully show more cancer-related applications for this exciting technology.