The CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system may be able to restore the effectiveness of first-line chemotherapies used to treat lung cancer by deleting or " knocking out " a gene in cancer tumors that helps the tumors develop resistance to the drugs. 

That was the conclusion of a new study published today in the journal Molecular Therapy Oncolytics by scientists from The Gene Editing Institute of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute at Christiana Care Health System.

The study reports that in both tissue culture and a mouse, tumor growth stopped and there was a dramatic decrease in the volume of existing tumors when chemotherapy was combined with CRIPSP-Cas9, which was used to disable tumor gene known as NRF2. Previous studies have shown that the NRF2 gene controls cell functions in lung cancer tumors that help them thwart the effect of chemotherapies that might otherwise reduce or eliminate them.

"Our goal is to see if CRISPR can be used with chemotherapy to provide a safe, affordable way to give patients who are not responding to treatment at least to fight a chance against this very challenging cancer," said Eric Kmiec, Ph.D. the principal author of the study and the director of the Gene Editing Institute.

"We believe that finding ways to use CRISPR to improve existing treatments will lead to some of the first benefits for patients as we tackle the vital ethical issues around the use of CRISPR for edits that can be passed on through DNA. in the journey of exploring the health benefits of gene editing. "

The study was led by Pawel Bialek, the research scientist at the Gene Editing Institute, the nation's only CRISPR-focused research initiative located in a community health care system. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Dr. Kmiec said some chemotherapies have gotten patients achieve remission or at least live longer and enjoy a better quality of life by slowing down the progress of the disease.

But I have said some patients with non-small lung cancer, the most common form of lung cancer, are resistant to chemotherapy used to treat the disease or develop resistance after being exposed to the drugs.

Developing CRISPR in a Community Health Center: A Patient-Focused Approach

Dr. Kmiec said the lung cancer work reflects an approach adopted by the Gene Editing Institute to move captiously in developing medical applications of gene editing. Based inside the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute at Christiana Care, his research team gains a unique insight into the lives and needs of cancer patients and the health care professionals who care for them, which helps them to maintain a strong focus on doing what's right for patients

Dr. Kmiec said that while his team is working to move into human trials, the CRISPR application being developed for cancer does not involve directly editing a patient's genome –only the genes in the tumor.