Gene editing techniques are exciting for scientist and oncologists who hope that they will give a new approach in treating cancer and even opportunity to eradicate it all. The idea of gene editing has been around for some time, however so far there was no technique that is relatively safe, practical and cost-effective. The discovery and development of CRISPER – Cas9 is a major step forward in this area.

What is CRISPER – Cas9 (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat – associated protein 9)?

This is a new technique that uses single guided RNA and Cas9 endonuclease, which could target specific parts of DNA and initiate DNA repair. Of course, this is a very broad explanation of a complex mechanism, which requires significant knowledge in genetics.  

Why everyone is excited about CRISPER – Cas9?

This new technique has some advantages over other similar methods. 

  • This method works on level single guided RNA and RNA-DNA interaction – in the prospect of oncology application this allows known oncogenes to be targeted and “switched off”, it also could be used to repair DNA and oncogenes to be removed. It provides opportunity to target cancer cells and “repair” them.
  • Single guided RNA is a short fragment of RNA which makes it easy to synthesis and clone.
  • The data so far shows low cytotoxicity.
  • The short fragments of RNA allow very specific and efficient targeting. 
  • Synthesis of short RNA fragments is cost-effective. 
  • The manipulation is easy and rapid, which makes it more practical in comparison to other techniques.

What are the possible applications in oncology?

CRISPER – Cas9 gives new hopes to oncologists to provide them with new tool that could help them tackle challenges.

  • One of the main reasons for chemotherapy failure is that patients develop resistance to the therapeutics. Gene editing could be used to repair such mutations which cause resistance to chemotherapy.
  • Gene editing could be a way to block known oncogenes or to remove them. It also could allow repair of cancer calls on DNA level.
  • It could be used to supress tumour cells growth and spread.
  • Many cancers are caused by infection with oncogenic virus and this technique could be used to inactivate these viruses. Example for such type of viruses is Human Papilloma Virus and its role in cervical cancer; Epstein – Barr virus and nasopharyngeal carcinoma; and Hepatitis B and C and liver cancer. 
  • This method could be used to improve radiotherapy insensitivity which is observed in some tumours. This could be achieved by repairing these genes that cause the insensitivity. 
  • CRISPER – Cas9 could be used to target specific tissues which could be major breakthrough in treating rare oncology diseases affecting soft tissues.

What are the challenges?

  • There are still many knowns regarding the long-term application of this method.
  • Some new reports show that this technique could generate additional undesired mutations.

CRISPER – Cas9 provides new opportunities but also challenges. The success of this technique could change the future of cancer treatment.


CRISPER – Cas9 therapeutics in cancer: promising strategies and present challenges

Author: Olga Peycheva

Olga is a clinical research professional who has been working in clinical research since 2005. She has extensive experience in clinical research in Eastern and Western Europe. 

Originally published on 3 Nov 2017