A new scientific innovation is set to help scientists understand the causes of cancer with greater speed and precision than ever before. Rather than looking at individual gene mutations on their own, scientists can now create models incorporating a number of mutations. Studying their collective effect will give a better understanding of the causes of cancer, and allow scientists to better mirror human diseases when working with potential treatments.
The work, published in the Cancer Discovery scientific journal, demonstrated its potential by creating a model of small cell lung cancer, the most aggressive form of lung cancer, using CRISPR to mimic mutations often seen in patients with small cell lung cancer.
With the model, the scientists were able to show that an important contributor to the cancer’s development was a common mutation of the CREBBP gene, caused by smoke inhalation. The researchers found the exact molecular changes occurring within the cells as a result of the mutation thanks to the new method.
Researcher Kwon-Sik Park, PhD, said that the work provides proof-of-concept for new models, where scientists can test a number of genes and mutations simultaneously: “Patients not only acquire different mutations but they acquire combinations, so you have to model really faithfully to understand what is happening.
“One of the biggest obstacles for cancer researchers today is the sheer volume of variables at play when a healthy cell turns cancerous. This often makes it difficult for researchers to determine where to focus…You want to know which one is really the driver, so we can prioritize for further study in developing therapy.”
The researchers hope to use follow-up studies to provide more insight into strategies for preventing the formation and spread of cancer.