Genetic Engineering: How it might help with Cancer


Recently, scientists have been developing different kinds of genetically modified cells, which include T-cells and white blood cells, that might actually help with fighting the varied types of cancer. But first, what is genetic engineering? Genetic engineering, also known as GE, is the artificial modification of an organism’s gene. This can also include the transferring of a specific trait from one organism to another organism that is a different species. This process of transferring traits from one organism to another is called transgenic(GMO). So, how will this help cancer? Cancer is the duplication of cells that don’t die when they should. The mass of those kinds of cells often pile up and create a tumor, that sometimes spread to other tissues if not found out about right away. There are many ways to help fight back cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation, but recently, scientists have found ways to genetically modify cells so they are created to fight back cancer on a given signal/command. These genetically modified immune cells, also known as T-Cells, are engineered to target one specific type of cells that can possibly contain cancer. This procedure and organization is known as CRISPR. Aastha P., a seventh grader at Kraemer Middle School says, “This new therapy could change the state of health a lot of people are in right now, “.

One type of cancer that scientists are looking for a cure is Leukemia. Leukemia is a type of blood cancer that usually involves the production of unusual white blood cells, which are also the cells that fight off infections. The abnormal white blood cells then start to rapidly grow and divide, which later causes the red blood cells to decrease in amount. This results in the body fighting off infections more, rather than carrying oxygen. At Great Ormond Street in London, scientists created a vial of white blood cells that were altered to hunt down and destroy leukemia. Scientists extract T-Cells from a healthy donor and alter them using a type of DNA cutting enzyme. This enzyme then deactivates immune genes and changes the genes to protect new cells from anticancer medicine that the patient is taking. The patient then undergoes a therapy to destroy their own immune system, which is replaced by the modified cells.

Killing over than 100000 people a year in the US, scientists are also looking into creating a cure for Lung cancer. Lung cancer is a growth of abnormal cells that start of in one or both lungs that cause it to divide rapidly and create tumors. Chinese scientists are soon going to inject a CRISPR aided genetically modified cell into a lung cancer patient who failed to show any improvement with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The genetically engineered T-Cell will be sent into the patient’s immune system and will try and target the tumors. At the Broad Institute and MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, scientists are using mouse models to find the impact lung cancer has on each individual gene of the genome. Dr. Sharp, scientist at the Broad Institute found that tumor evolution is a very complex set of processes that is controlled by a network of genes. For a genetically altered cell to target one specific tumor, it would require a very precise machine that will program the cell to destroy each tumor with a 100% accuracy every single time they do this therapy.

Even though CRISPR is continuously making progress with engineering a T-cell, cancer would still not be completely cured, but it is more of making a patient’s life last longer. Some scientists are wondering if this new way of killing cancer cells is also going to be harmful to generations that are to come. Each individual cell that is modified goes through a ‘DNA cutting’ by a very precise and specific genetic engineering machine. However, if the DNA is being edited, there is always a chance that there will be an ‘off-target’ mutation. The DNA modification and its medicinal nature might not just stay in the patient, but it might be a hereditary trait that will be passed onto any offspring.