The Development of CRISPR to Treat Cancer and Revolutionize Cancer Research



Cancer is a disease that affects millions of people worldwide. While many treatments for cancer have developedsuch as chemotherapy, radiation, or new drugsthese treatments have their own risky effects. Ever since scientists discovered that faulty changes in DNA cause cancer, they have been trying to discover a way to alter the DNA in humans as a treatment for cancer. CRISPR is a gene-editing tool that was developed in 2013. This innovation can alter DNA in human cells like precise scissors. CRISPR is a revolutionary development in the field of cancer research because of its precise and efficient mechanisms of altering DNA, yet further research is necessary to limit the potential complications. 

DNA alterations play an essential role in cancer, as a genetic alteration can intensify or eliminate the function of a protein, causing resultant, uncontrollable cell division. CRISPR was first discovered by the defense mechanisms in microbes. Microbes remove snippets of an intruder’s DNA to protect against invaders such as viruses. When the invader tries to attack the cell again, the microbe’s stored DNA segments help the enzyme Cas find and slice up the invader’s DNA (NCI, 2020). The CRISPR tool consists of a DNA-cutting enzyme and a guide RNA. The guide RNA couples up with the Cas enzyme and guides it to the target. After the guide RNA matches up with the DNA on the target gene, Cas cuts the DNA. Next, CRISPR can scramble the target gene’s DNA, edit single letters of DNA, or even add a new segment (NCI, 2020). 

CRISPR is a groundbreaking innovation in the treatment of cancer due to its precision and efficiency. Through CRISPR, scientists can edit specific genetic sequences by introducing mutations at particular sites, muting or turning on genes of interest, or adding sequences of DNA to change the function of that gene (Synthego, 2021). Additionally, CRISPR is entirely customizable and can alter any segment of DNA containing the three billion letters of the human genome in a precise manner (NCI, 2020). Since this tool uses the enzyme CaS9, CRISPR can edit the DNA on any part of the human genome. CaS9 can silence genes by snipping them out and also utilize repair enzymes to substitute faulty genes (Plumer, 2018). This specificity and versatility have never been achieved before. In comparison to other gene-editing techniques, the efficiency of CRISPR is revolutionary. Other techniques could take months of altering a gene and cost thousands of dollars, while CRISPR takes just a few hours and costs $75 (Plumer, 2018). Researchers can even use hundreds of guide RNAs simultaneously, allowing for thousands of gene alterations at a time (NCI, 2020). 

While CRISPR fosters benefits in efficiency and efficacy, there are some limitations. Even though the genetic scissors are accurate at locating target sites, there is still a possibility that they can miss. If a sequence that needs to be recognized is shorter, it has a greater probability of appearing several times in the genome. As a result, the CaS mistakenly cuts the DNA at many locations. However, to solve this problem, researchers are attempting to improve its accuracy by using new amino acids in the CaS9 protein. Additionally, new developments are being made to replace individual letters in the genetic code through cytidine deaminase, which would substantially increase CRISPR’s accuracy (Gesellschaft, 2019). There are also concerns about how the body might react to viruses that carry CRISPR, as it has just begun being tested on humans. Getting CRISPR components into the cell also provides another challenge (CTCA, 2021).

CRISPR has many applications in the field of medicine and science. Researchers are using this tool to better understand the functions of genes in cancer and also model cancers.  (Synthego 2020). It also has the power to eradicate certain bacteria, stop genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, and even modify an entire species (Plumer 2018). While more clinical trials and studies are necessary, there is no doubt that CRISPR is revolutionizing cancer research with its efficacy and specificity and is a powerful tool against cancer. Perhaps there is a cure for cancer on the horizon. 


Written By: Rana Dubauskas