In a recent study published by Stem Cells, scientists at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago found that a specific region of DNA containing a cancer-causing gene, known as GLI1, can be specifically targeted, and as a result, turned off. Since GLI1 has been observed as one of the primary causes of gene expression (the process by which information in the DNA is converted to functional products like proteins), by eliminating this sequence of genes from the DNA, scientists could stop the rapid cell division of cancerous cells.
GLI1 has been linked to nearly a third of all known cancers, largely due to its ability to cause the uncontrolled division of cells, tumor migration, and resistance to treatments like chemotherapy. The scientists involved with the study set out to replicate the human genome sequence containing GLI1, to see the effects that removal could have on subjects.
Philip Iannaccone, MD, Ph.D., professor at the Manne Research Institute and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and Senior co-author of the study states, “We established in living human embryonic stem cells that removing the GLI1 regulatory region eliminated GLI1 expression and halted its activity,” and went on to add that, “These findings are promising and could point to a therapeutic target for cancer.”
Using a gene-editing tool known as CRISPR editing, the scientists were able to ‘delete’ the region of genes containing GLI1 in human stem cells. This deletion of genes is not believed to have any negative effects on the host, as “The developmental function of GLI1 ends after birth,” and “it should not have negative consequences to normal biology” explains Dr.Iannaccone.
Scientists involved with the study are hopeful that the continued exploration of GLI1 and its role in cancerous cells will lead to a new treatment for numerous types of cancer, many of which affect the lives of millions every year. For now, further research is required to take this method from the lab to treatment facilities.
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