A new study highlights a new research method using the recently developed CRISPR technique. In short, CRISPR is a technology that allows researchers to cut out a section of DNA that causes a disease, like cancer, and then replace the section with normal, healthy genes.
Jay Gertz, PhD, a researcher at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah and his team have developed a new technique involving CRISPR. But instead of cutting out certain sections of DNA, this new technique blocks other things from binding to the DNA, including proteins such as estrogen receptor, which is a key driver in the development of breast and uterine cancers.
“With this technique, we are targeting regions of the genome, called enhancers, which are really important in turning genes on and turning genes off and play a key role in cancer development,” said Gertz. “These areas are challenging to study, and this new technique allows us to study these difficult regions of DNA in a flexible and fast way.”
HCI researchers can now target multiple sites of the genome simultaneously and trigger them to become inactive. That will make it harder for proteins like estrogen receptor to bind the genome and drive tumor growth.
“This technique we have developed is basically putting a stop sign down at a specific place in the genome. This is a great way to non-invasively see what a piece of DNA is doing,” said Julia Carleton, HCI researcher and lead author on the paper. “With this process, we are trying to see which pieces of DNA that are bound by the estrogen receptor are important for controlling genes that are turned on during an estrogen response.”
The Gertz lab recently received a $3M grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute to support this research and expand their work to a larger set of genes, which will allow them to uncover the underlying principles of how estrogen receptor works in breast and uterine cancers and how these enhancers are playing a role in cancer.