Hopes of new treatments after research uncovers genes essential to disease’s survival
Researchers working with a revolutionary gene editing tool have discovered thousands of genes that are essential for the survival of cancer cells, holding out the prospect of major advances in treatment.
Scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire worked with the Crispr/Cas9 system to disrupt every gene within 30 different types of cancer.
This led them to identifying 600 genes that could be used in precision treatments that would mean sufferers not having to endure the side effects of options such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
One gene identified is Werner syndrome RecQ helicase, which researchers found was essential for keeping alive some of the most unstable cancers but which cannot currently be targeted.
The research, which was a collaboration between the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute and the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
It could help to bring down the cost of making effective cancer treatments: the institute said that it currently costs more than $1bn (£760m) to make a single drug, and that 90% of these fail during testing and development.
Praising the tool that made the breakthrough possible, Dr Kosuke Yusa, the co-lead author of the findings, said Crispr was “incredibly powerful” and “enables us to do science at a scale and with a precision that we couldn’t do five years ago.
“With Crispr we have discovered a very exciting opportunity to develop new drugs targeting cancers.”
Dr Mathew Garnett, also co-lead author, said: “The Cancer Dependency Map is a huge effort to identify all the weaknesses that exist in different cancers so we can use this information to empower the next generation of precision cancer treatments.
“Ultimately we hope this impacts on the way we treat patients, so many more patients get effective therapies.”
Prof Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, told the BBC: “What makes this research so powerful is the scale.
“This work provides some excellent starting points and the next step will be a thorough analysis of the genes that have been identified as weaknesses in this study, to determine if they will one day lead to the development of new treatments for patients.”
Credit: The Guardian