Scientists' identification of essential genes could lead to new cancer treatments
A team of University of Torontoresearchers has worked through the human genome, switching off genesin an effort to map out those essential in keeping our cells alive.The scientists were able to identify sets of genes associated withspecific cancers, paving the way for highly targeted treatments.
While mapping the human genome was ahuge step forward, actually understanding – and therefore beingable to manipulate – the function of each individual gene isextremely difficult. In order to work out the individual functions ofeach of the thousands of genes, scientists switch off genesone-by-one, gauging what happens to the cell as a result.
Early attempts to do this were veryslow or too inaccurate to be practical, but a more effective geneediting tool was introduced in 2012, known as CRISPR, which has madethe process much quicker and more accurate.
The University of Toronto team decidedto look at the big picture, switching off close to 18,000 genes – anumber that represents 90 percent of the entire human genome. Indoing so, they eventually isolated just 1,500 genes that are essential tokeeping our cells alive.
Digging deeper, the researchers turnedoff genes associated with five different cancer cell lines – brain,ovarian, retinal and two forms of colorectal cancer – establishing that the different tumors rely on specific and uniquesets of genes. This information could be used to create newtreatments that attack only the identified cells, not harmingsurrounding tissue.
The research is a big step forward inhumanity's overall understanding of how our genome works, and puts uscloser than ever to achieving the ultimate goal of identifying thefunction of every single gene.
"We can now interrogate our genome atunprecedented resolution in human cells that we grow in the lab withincredible speed and accuracy," says the University of Toronto'sProf. Jason Moffat. "In short order, this will lead to afunctional map of cancer that will link drug targets to DNA sequencevariation."
The findings of the study werepublished in the journal Cell.
Source: University of Toronto