Researchers Identify Promising New Cancer Treatment

By Jennifer Hollohan | Updated

cancer treatment crispr gene editing medical debt

Individuals and families devastated by a cancer diagnosis may have an alternative cancer treatment route available soon. News of a new study involving CRISPR gene editing is rocking the medical community. And if the results are successful, the treatment could roll out more broadly. 

CRISPR gene-editing is the laboratory process of altering DNA (such as in humans). Researchers hope it will revolutionize medical treatments and offer a second chance to those suffering from serious diseases. But the technology is still in its early stage, so there isn’t a ton of information available.

However, that may soon change. There are new studies that include CRISPR gene editing in cancer treatments. A few of them are currently undergoing human trials. 

The CRISPR gene-editing process getting studied currently is a new technology called CAR T-cell therapies. According to NPR, “These are called “living drugs” because they’re living cells of the immune system, taken from cancer patients and then reinfused after being genetically engineered in the lab to attack the patient’s tumors.” And how it works is fascinating. 

Doctors rely on T-cells donated by healthy individuals. They extract some T-cells and use CRISPR gene-editing technology to effectively re-code the cells. The doctors instruct them to do three specific tasks. 

“Leave alone the healthy cells in a patient’s body; hide from the recipient’s own immune system, and zero in on — and destroy — whatever cancer the patient is fighting.” So, CAR T-cell therapies reprogram healthy cells into a natural cancer treatment. And so far, the data has shown positive results.

An oncologist at the University of Kansas, Dr. Joseph McGuirk, is conducting one of the cancer treatment studies. He recently presented his latest results at an American Society of Hematology gathering. Out of 32 patients, 67% saw their tumors shrink, and 40% went into remission. 

Oncologist Dr. Swaminathan Iyer, with the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is leading a similar study. Iyer’s study involves 18 patients and has seen similar positive cancer treatment results. However, many experts question the nature of these studies.

Both involve a process called “off-shelf” CAR T-cell therapy. “It’s made in huge batches that would be ready right away for any patient, rather than having to wait weeks or even months for bespoke CAR T-cells made for each patient from their own cells. These off-the-shelf therapies could help patients whose own immune cells are too damaged, or are too sick to wait.”

This version of cancer treatment differs from the original one. The first trials of using CRISPR gene-editing for cancer treatments used a patient’s cells to develop the CAR T-cell therapy. And it showed significant potential.

So, changing to the new “off-shelf” therapy concerns some cancer researchers. There are questions as to how long the mass-produced T-cells will function properly. Early indicators show they do not last as long as customized T-cells. 

Additionally, though the results are positive, some experts are concerned that “off-shelf” cancer treatments are not as effective. And that may be troubling news to patients and their loved ones. So, for now, the medical community wants to see more research before it signs off on treatments using CRISPR gene-editing technology.