The New Gene-Editing Technique That Reveals Cancer’s Weaknesses

Their goal was to find genes that are expendable in healthy cells but crucial in specific types of tumors. These genes represent the box of tricks that cancers use to thrive in the body. They also represent weaknesses that scientists can exploit to destroy cancer cells without harming normal ones. For example, Moffat predicted that some of the colon-cancer cells he studied would be vulnerable to a drug called metformin, while another group would succumb to linezolid—and he was right on both counts.“We’ve known for many years that the molecular drivers of tumors vary from cancer to cancer and even patient to patient, but we have previously lacked the tools to tackle these differences in a systematic way,” says Feng Zhang from MIT, one of the pioneers of CRISPR. “[These groups] show that CRISPR-based tools are up to the job.”“My only fear is that we won’t find a huge number of genes that differentiate cancer cells and non-cancer cells, and the ones we find won’t be druggable,” says Sabatini. “But we need the answer. And if those genes are there, we can find them. It’ll just take industrializing this approach, with not just tens of cell lines but hundreds.”

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