Scientists have used Nobel Prize winning technology to kill cancer cells in mice for the first time.
Researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel have utilised the CRISPR/Cas9 system to treat aggressive cancers and believe their achievement marks a bold new step in the fight against disease.
CRISPR/Cas9 is a gene editing tool that gives scientists genetic scissors to snip out things they don't want. In addition to removing, geneticists can also add or alter sections of the DNA sequence to see if it can help.
It's previously been used by researchers trying to eliminate conditions in embryos, however other scientists have been looking to see if the CRISPR/Cas9 system can be used for fully grown adults.
The Laboratory of Precision Nanomedicine at the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research has been using it to treat cancer in mice and have made a stunning discovery.
In a study published in Science Daily, the team say they 'developed a novel lipid nanoparticle-based delivery system that specifically targets cancer cells and destroys them by genetic manipulation'.
Professor Dan Peer said: "This is the first study in the world to prove that the CRISPR genome editing system can be used to treat cancer effectively in a living animal.
"It must be emphasised that this is not chemotherapy. There are no side effects, and a cancer cell treated in this way will never become active again. The molecular scissors of Cas9 cut the cancer cell's DNA, thereby neutralising it and permanently preventing replication."
They decided to use two of the most aggressive forms of cancer in their study, glioblastoma (one of the deadliest forms of brain cancer) and metastatic ovarian cancer.
After just one treatment of the CRISPR-LNPs, the team found that life expectancy in the mice with glioblastoma had doubled and their overall survival rate increase by about 30 per cent. It was similarly successful in the mice with ovarian cancer, with overall survival rate improving by 80 per cent after CRISPR-LNPs treatment.
"The CRISPR genome editing technology, capable of identifying and altering any genetic segment, has revolutionised our ability to disrupt, repair or even replace genes in a personalized manner," Prof. Peer said.
"Despite its extensive use in research, clinical implementation is still in its infancy because an effective delivery system is needed to safely and accurately deliver the CRISPR to its target cells. The delivery system we developed targets the DNA responsible for the cancer cells' survival.
"This is an innovative treatment for aggressive cancers that have no effective treatments today."
The team at Tel Aviv University are now turning their attention to blood cancers and muscular dystrophy to see whether CRISPR-Cas9 can be just as effective. They have highlighted that the research is still in its infancy and it will be some time before trials can begin in humans.
Regardless, it's a brilliant and exciting new development.