The powerful CRISPR gene editing technique might have a role to play in the future of mesothelioma treatment.
CRISPR is a method for altering certain genes to help fight disease. This week, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania released data from the first study of CRISPR in US cancer patients.
It was only a safety study, but the results are promising. They could have wide-ranging implications for patients fighting aggressive cancers like malignant mesothelioma.
Modifying Genes To Help Fight Cancer
The CRISPR gene editing technique is a simplified version of the method bacteria cells use to defend themselves against viruses. This antiviral defense system is called CRISPR-Cas9.
The new Penn Medicine study involved just three cancer patients. Two of the patients had multiple myeloma and one had sarcoma.
Doctors removed some immune system cells from the patients. They modified the cells in a lab using the CRISPR gene editing technique. The cells were “reprogrammed” to be more aggressive against cancer cells. Then the cells were returned to the patients via infusion.
The technique combines genetic modification with immunotherapy. Immunotherapy harnesses the power of the immune system to fight disease. Immunotherapy is one of the most talked-about new approaches to mesothelioma treatment.
Mesothelioma is rare but still affects about 2,500 US patients each year. These patients have very few treatment options. Many die within a year of diagnosis.
CRISPR Gene Editing Could be Safe for Mesothelioma Patients
The cancer patients whose cells were modified with CRISPR did not have any significant side effects. The treatment appears to do what doctors hoped it would do. The next step is to study the CRISPR gene editing technique in a bigger group of cancer patients.
The Penn Medicine researchers will present their findings at the American Society of Hematology meeting in Florida next month. It could open the door for testing CRISPR in patients with mesothelioma and other types of cancer.
In related news, Swiss scientists used a CRISPR-Cas9-based screening tool to identify genes that help mesothelioma cells survive. One of those was an enzyme called WEE1.
It turns out that blocking WEE1 makes mesothelioma cells more sensitive to chemotherapy. “Our results suggest a new therapeutic combination for malignant pleural mesothelioma,” writes lead author Duo Xu.
Dr. Xu says the study supports using CRISPR-Cas9-based genomics to improve existing cancer treatments.
The CRISPR gene editing technique is still highly experimental. It is not yet available for routine use in the treatment of mesothelioma patients.
Xu, D, et al, “CRISPR screening identifies WEE1 as a combination target for standard chemotherapy in malignant pleural mesothelioma”, November 6, 2019, Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, Epub ahead of print, https://mct.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2019/11/06/1535-7163.MCT-19-0724
Stein, Rob, “CRISPR Approach To Fighting Cancer Called ‘Promising’ In 1st Safety Test”, November 6, 2019, National Public Radio (NPR), November 6, 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/11/06/776169331/crispr-approach-to-fighting-cancer-called-promising-in-1st-safety-test