Cutting the brakes on cancer: gene-editing could help the body to fight back

15 April 2016

Promising new research demonstrates that gene-editing the ‘off-switch’ in T-Cells, allows the immune system to fight back against cancer on its own.

Exciting results from the first proof-of concept study have shown that gene-editing could hold the key to the next generation of cancer immunotherapies.

The team from University College London’s Cancer Institute led by Professor Karl Peggs and Dr Sergio Quezada, used TALEN Gene-Editing to modify the T-cells found in mice allowing their own immune systems to attack the melanoma and fibrosarcoma tumours within their bodies.

The gene PD-1 normally regulates T-Cell responses, helping it to identify intruders within the body, and attack them causing cell-death, destroying any foreign objects. Tumours within the body co-opt this response, preventing the T-Cells from fighting back.

Using extracted T-cells, taken from the tumours themselves, the team deactivated PD-1 using TALEN editing, and reintroduced the cells into the tumours. Over the next 60 days, the mice with the modified cells had a survival rate of over 70% and their tumours shrank. The control group mice - with no modification - had a survival rate of less than 20%.

There are already drugs in use which block the PD-1 gene. However they don’t target the tumour specifically, resulting in side-effects.  

Professor Peter Johnson, from Cancer research UK (who part funded the study) cautioned that although the results are promising, they are still a long way from clinical application. 

More from us

Genomics and policy news