Gene therapies for lung cancer identified by international team of scientists

August 24, 2022 - 2 minutes
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Gene therapies for lung cancer can be found by CRISPR genome editing technology, an international team of scientists have discovered.

CRISPR genome-editing is a powerful tool that gives scientists a cheap and easy way to find and alter a specific piece of DNA within a cell – the ‘cut and paste’ of the biological world.

Study findings

The research team led by associate professor Rory Johnson of UCD Conway Institute published the study findings in the current issue of the scientific journal, Cell Genomics.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality. The researchers say the work set out to create new routes to developing non-small cell lung cancer therapies based on RNA therapeutics (RNATX). RNATX have recently emerged as promising new strategy for developing therapies against common diseases.

Genome editing

Johnson said: “The biggest hurdle is identifying the optimal gene targets for RNATX in a given disease. This project achieves that by combining CRISPR genome-editing with lncRNAs to select the most promising lncRNA targets for therapy.”

Using the CRISPR tool, the team initially identified 80 possible lncRNA targets that are active in NSCLC. Further screening homed in on two potential drug targets that have been named as Cancer Hallmarks in Lung LncRNA (CHiLL) 1 and GCAWKR.

These targets will now be further investigated.

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Lung cancer

Lung cancer is a critical unmet medical need. It is the greatest cancer killer in Ireland and worldwide. Present therapies fail to effectively treat most patients, leading to a poor 5-year survival that has improved little over past decades.

Professor Helen Roche, director at UCD Conway Institute said: “These findings offer a widely applicable strategy to discover new targets for RNATX in virtually any cancer. I want to congratulate Rory and his colleagues worldwide on this work.”

Preclinical testing

The team plan to further develop the candidate gene targets for preclinical testing with a view to moving into clinical trials if successful.

They will also look to further improve screening techniques to discover better targets, more rapidly and cheaply, and in other cancer types.

The study was initiated by Johnson group while located at the University of Bern, and completed in University College Dublin, funded by a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Future Research Leaders grant to Rory Johnson.

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