Stanford scientists have found a way to modify pairs of cancer-related genes in the lungs of mice and then precisely track individual cells of the resulting tumor – a combined technique that could dramatically speed up cancer research and drug development.
…[Evolutionary biologist Dmitri] Petrov’s idea was to attach short, unique sequences of DNA to individual tumor cells inside mice lungs. Each sequence functions as a heritable genetic barcode, and as each cancer seed cell divides, growing into a tumor, the number of barcodes also multiplies.
Now, instead of having to painstakingly cut out individual tumors, the scientists could take an entire cancerous lung, grind it up, and then use high-throughput DNA sequencing and computational analysis to very precisely determine how big a tumor is by counting how often its barcodes pop up. By tallying different barcodes, scientists can compare tumor sizes much more quantitatively than was previously possible.
The combination of CRISPR-Cas9 and DNA barcoding could allow scientists to replicate in the lab the kind of genetic diversity observed in cancer patients.
The team’s hybrid technique could also prove valuable for cancer drug testing. Pharmaceutical companies could test a drug on thousands of tumor variations simultaneously to see which ones respond to treatment and – equally important – which ones don’t.
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