Precision cancer cures a step closer

New technique developed by UAlberta researchers brings gene-editing medicine closer to patient applications.

15 September 2019

Original Story: Innovation magazine

Artwork by Natasia Designs

A research team at the University of Alberta has moved one step closer to the holy grail of gene-editing tech, which can provide effective treatment for people suffering from diseases including cancers.

Basil Hubbard, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Therapeutics and assistant professor in the U of A's Department of Pharmacology, led the study. The research relates to a molecule that can enhance the accuracy of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, a system which can reprogram genes that are defective. In that system, warns Hubbard, "one wrong cut and a patient could end up with a serious condition like cancer."

"We've discovered a way to greatly improve the accuracy of gene-editing technology," explained Hubbard, "by replacing the natural guide molecule it uses with a synthetic one called a bridged nucleic acid, or BNA."

"Our research shows that the use of bridged nucleic acids to guide Cas9 can improve its specificity by over 10,000 times in certain instances," he added, "a dramatic improvement."

The technology has already been licensed by industry and the team is working to commercialize it further; they have founded a company called Sense Therapeutics, which is focused on gene-targeting cancer therapeutics.

The study, published in Nature Communications, was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.