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Nobel Prize-winning technique used in research into brain tumours

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2020 has just been awarded to two female scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, for their work on developing the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique.

This technique is already at work in the search for a cure for brain tumours.

CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a simple but powerful tool for editing the DNA in cells in the laboratory (not directly in people!).

The tool allows researchers to alter the sequence of units that make up DNA which modifies the way it produces proteins. A sequence of units in the DNA strand is located and ‘molecular scissors’ (a molecule called Cas9) then ‘snip’ the DNA strand in the appropriate places.

This technique can disable or repair a gene, or insert something new where the molecular scissors have cut. This tool could allow researchers to identify the parts of the DNA sequence that are critical for tumour cell growth and cut them out or modify them to work differently.

The tool is an important advance because it is cheap, accurate and fast. It’s now possible to manipulate many different genes specifically and quickly, reducing the process of gene editing from years to just weeks!

“The CRISPR tool is enabling our funded researchers to more quickly understand the mechanisms involved in tumour cell growth and is increasing the pace of identifying and testing new drug candidates,” Dr Christine Barlow, Research Engagement Manager, The Brain Tumour Charity.

Researchers also use the technique to systematically screen drugs to see which ones interact with the critical gene sequences important for brain tumours in order to identify new treatments.

The CRISPR technique is now widely used as a research tool in the brain tumour field. We’re pleased the Nobel Prize recognises the important steps of this technology and hope that more investment will move us even further, and faster towards a cure.

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