OCT 10, 2019 8:24 AM PDT

Gene-Editing Breakthrough for Cervical Cancer

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Researchers at the The Menzies Health Institute Queensland have found a way to use gene therapy CRISPR-Cas9 to treat cervical cancer. The first treatment of its kind, it comes after 5 years of research. 

CRISPR technology allows researchers to edit DNA sequences by cutting and pasting target areas (Mayo Clinic: 2018). Targeting a gene called E7, Professor Nigel McMillan and his team used this method to successfully treat mice with cancerous tumors from the human papillomavirus (HPV). 

According to Professor Nigel McMillan, the lead researcher for the treatment, “We focused on cervical cancer because we know the gene we want to turn off, so that makes it easy to target. Without that gene the cancer dies...This was the next step for this particular technology, to make sure we can affect the gene that we want and kill the cancer cell (Layt: 2019).”

After having identified the E7 gene, they edited it by introducing extra DNA that caused it to be misrad and stop being made. McMillan added, "This is like adding a few extra letters into a word so the spell checker doesn't recognise it anymore. Because the cancer must have this gene to produce, once edited, the cancer dies (Hamilton-Smith: 2019).” 

With the treatment successful in getting rid of tumors in 100% of the mice studied, they also found the procedure had no negative side effects- as there were no harmful markers or signs of inflammation or damage leftover. 

McMillan attributes the groundbreaking discovery to his inquisitive student, Dr Luqmn Jubair. He said, “He went away and did something I did not really ask him to do and he added extra treatments [injections] into the regime and it turned out to be the lightbulb moment. Our normal series of three treatments slowed the cancer down, but when he [Dr Jubair] added the extra four after that, it (the tumour) completely disappeared (ibid.).”

A very promising new treatment, the researchers now hope to develop this treatment further to treat women of cervical cancer by working towards clinical trials. Furthermore, as a third of cancers are caused by infectious organisms, they hope it may also be developed to treat other cancers too. 




Mayo Clinic

Layt, Stuart: The Age 

Hamilton-Smith, Lexy: ABC.net

About the Author
Annie Lennon is a writer whose work also appears in Medical News Today, Psych Central, Psychology Today, and other outlets. When she's not writing, she is COO of Xeurix, an HR startup that assesses jobfit from gamified workplace simulations.
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