Cancer is the biggest threat to humanity. Time and space does not block its power; it attacks every possible part of the human body, and is the oldest disease we have battled. We have tried to use every possible piece of technology to battle it, and yet we have only managed temporary treatment. Our fight with cancer may be immortal.
Our infinite fight
On a biological scale, cancer is immortal. One of the key characteristics of cancer is that it can grow forever. Cancer can preserve its reproduction and growth abilities by maintaining its telomeres, or the preserving the ends of their chromosomes. For a regular cell, repeated copies of the cell will start to ruin the chromosomes and shorten the telomeres. Think of it like a manual text copier; as character after character is manually typed from one computer to the next, there are bound to be mistakes.Cancer doesn’t have that problem; it produces telomerase, an enzyme that preserves the original when copying. Cancer can grow and copy itself ad infinitum without any risk towards harming the essential genes of the cell.
Our current solutions:
This infinite growth is stopped through chemotherapy, which specifically targets fast growing cells. This often does slow down the pace of cancer, but indiscriminately targets all fast cells, meaning hair loss and the destruction of stem cells. The other main form of cancer therapy is radiation, where massive blasts of gamma energy hits the DNA of cancer, abolishing cell division and removing its immortality. Radiation has its own problems, often destroying the body in the process. Our main systems of cancer seem to be a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Is there a better option?
Gene Editing may be the answer. The immortality of cancer can be stopped if we can edit what cancer truly means. All in all, there are 5 main ways that gene therapy can fight cancer:
- Strengthening the immune system: Upgrading the body’s special forces in their fight against cancer means fundamentally changing T-Cells and their genetic structure. T-Cells are taken out of the body and edited by adding the NY-ESO gene (the best gene for getting an immune response). Once a massive number of T-Cells are produced in silica, they are re-introduced into the body.
- Editing Cancer itself: We can import genes into cancer itself. This is usually coupled with radiation therapy and chemotherapy, as the gene makes cancer more susceptible to a certain therapy.
- Activating Drugs: Importing genes into the cancer could also mean flipping a switch into allowing a certain drug to be active.
- Starving Cancer: Cancer can block when it is supposed to die, causing the tumor to enter a zombie like state. Some genes can reverse the zombification process, and CRISPR can inject that gene into cancer, making cancer mortal.
- Making Viruses: Viruses have a wide range of tasks depending on the specific type of virus, but many can kill specific cells. Editing the virus itself can possibly target cancer cells themselves. Currently, a modified version of the herpes virus is being used to target certain melanomas.
Cancer itself comes from faulty mutations to DNA. A change in a normal cell can bring about cancer. These changes can be brought through environmental causes, personal choices, and seemingly bad luck. Gene Editing itself is changing the genome of the organism, and it is even linked to causing cancer. The protein p53 is often activated when CRISPR-Cas9, where the protein attempts to repair the DNA which Cas9 has cut. Therefore, CRISPR is more effective on cells that do not have p53. However, p53 suppresses tumors, creating a system in which both CRISPR and tumors can both rise in similar areas.
The main thing that we have to worry about is proper testing through the channels. It is a fascinating technology that can affect every single person in the world for the better, but it has an equal chance of affecting those same people negatively. We have to take care in the ways we use this wonderful technology to make sure what we make is a better world.
Cancer is a fight that we battle will seemingly fight for eternity, but Gene Editing may be the tool to finally put it at bay. There are a multitude of ways that CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to fight, but at the same time there have to be proper precautions.
I’m Aniket, and I’m curious about how we can make the human experience better. If you would like to contact me, here is my Linkedin.