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Griffith Magazine

Griffith scientists crack cervical cancer code

Griffith Health

Fourth Edition December 2019

In what is believed to be a world first, Griffith University researchers have cured cervical cancer in mice using CRISPR gene-editing technology.

“This is the first cure for any cancer using this technology,’’ lead researcher Professor Nigel McMillan from Menzies Health Institute Queensland, said.

“The scientists used CRISPR-Cas9 to successfully target and treat cervical cancer tumours in vivo (via injection into live and tumour-bearing mice) using “stealth” nanoparticles.

“The nanoparticles search out the cancer-causing gene in cancer cells and “edit it’’ by introducing some extra DNA that causes the gene to be misread and stop being made,’’ Professor McMillan said.

This is like adding a few extra letters into a word, so the spell checker doesn’t recognise it. Because the cancer must have this gene to produce, once edited the cancer dies.

“In our study, the treated mice have 100% survival and no tumours. The mice showed no other clinical signs such as inflammation from treatment, but there may be other gene changes we haven’t measured yet.

“Other cancers can be treated once we know the right genes.”

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by a human papillomavirus infection (HPV), According to Cancer Australia, more than 250 women in Australia die from the disease each year.

The Griffith University scientists are working towards human trials of the gene therapy in the next five years.