Although I believe there is a good reason -- or reasons -- why this theory, that CRISPR could disable the genes for division in cancerous cells, is incorrect, I haven't been able to find them.

In short, the theory is that multiplexed CRISPR could knock out the genes responsible for cellular division (mitotic and meiotic genes) and thereby prevent the uncontrolled division of the cancer cells.

I understand that off-site edits, multiple mitotic and meiotic pathways, and the resiliency of cancer are difficulties, but in theory the idea makes sense.

Obviously, if the theory would work, probably someone would have done it already, so there must be a good reason why this won't work. Please could someone explain it to me? Please let me express my gratitude for your consideration in advance!


1 Answer 1


As with all cancer therapeutics one of the biggest problems is how you get the therapeutic to kill cancer cells without also killing so many healthy cells that the therapy kills the patient.

For CRISPR to work you have to get the CRISPR components into the target cells. Right now this is done using relatively harmless viruses like adenoviruses. The viruses "smuggle" the CRISPR components into the cells as they infect them. Nanoparticle containers are being researched as an alternative to viruses. The problem with your proposed therapy is that there is no way to target the viruses only at the cancer cells. You'd end up shutting down the cell division genes in healthy tissues too. Turning off cell division of a bunch of your healthy tissues is likely to kill you. There is also no way to ensure that all of the cancer cells would pick up the CRISPR components. You leave a few cells behind and the cancer quickly comes back.

Currently the most promising CRISPR cancer therapies are aimed at enhancing immune therapies. You take blood/bone marrow from the patient, sort out the immune T-cells, edit their genome using CRISPR to enhance their ability to identify and kill cancer cells, then inject them back into the patient. The result is hopefully a robust, ongoing immune attack on the cancer cells.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clear and detailed answer, Charles! $\endgroup$
    – Colin Pace
    Dec 25, 2023 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @ColinPace do not forget to upvote answer and accept it - if you like it. $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2023 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderChervov thank you for the note about etiquette. I believe I have already accepted the answer (clicking the green check mark), and I tried to upvote the answer, but I do not yet have enough experience points. $\endgroup$
    – Colin Pace
    Dec 25, 2023 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ Bezeljak (2022) discusses recent advances in targeting cancerous cells with viral vectors: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8884858 $\endgroup$
    – Colin Pace
    Dec 30, 2023 at 14:53

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