The CRISPR-Cas9 genetic manipulation system used in cancer research

The Cancer Dependency Map (Cancer DepMap) Portal's home page
The Cancer Dependency Map (Cancer DepMap) Portal’s home page

An article published in the journal “Nature Communications” reports the verification of the consistency of two datasets containing information on the application of a CRISPR-Cas9 system to obtain genetic modifications of cancer cells within research on their genetic alterations. A team of researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard compared the consistency of the two datasets, independently verifying the methodology and findings and validating 725 cancer models covering 25 different types of cancer. This is very useful information to understand the importance of the various genes in the survival of cancer cells and to create targeted treatments in a strategic collaboration called Cancer Dependency Map (Cancer DepMap).

The CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) acronym refers to prokaryotic DNA segments containing short repeated sequences. The expression CRISPR/Cas refers to a prokaryotic immune system conferring a genetic resistance to foreign elements.

Applications of CRISPR systems to humans as well for medical purposes consist in altering DNA to eliminate harmful mutations, thus creating treatments for genetic diseases. In the case of tumors, the issue is more complex because the importance of the various tumor cell genes for their survival and multiplication is not yet well known. There’s still work to be done to understand the consequences of the various genetic alterations of cancer cells and their vulnerabilities. The CRISPR-Cas9 system has become useful to explore those possibilities by modifying those cells “switching off” their genes one by one to understand their importance.

Two independent studies have been carried out on the subject obtaining as many datasets. Subsequently, the results included in those datasets were analyzed to verify their consistency. Dr. Clare Pacini of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, one of this this study’s first authors, explained that the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Broad Institute investigations were conducted using slightly different protocols regarding cell growth and the reagents used. In the verification, the investigations were repeated using the protocol used the first time by the other institute with consistent results.

Dr. Francesco Iorio of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, another of the authors of the study, stressed the importance of the results obtained explaining that joining the two datasets will give access to important information in the creation of the next generation of cancer treatments.

The Cancer Dependency Map (Cancer DepMap) Portal is open, in the sense that the data generated by the DepMap Project, updated periodically, are made available under the Creative Commons 4.0 license. This is an important contribution to medical research that allows other researchers to obtain useful data to find genetic vulnerabilities of various forms of cancer to be exploited in the creation of new therapies.

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