"Using infrared light, the new technique can precisely alter or cut the designated spot in the genome, greatly improving the target effect of gene-editing tool," Song Yujun said. Credit: Cancer Center.

Mankind now has a new way to fight cancer.

Scientists at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Nanjing university have designed a remote-controlled gene-editing platform by using light, which can precisely target and kill cancer cells, Global Times reported.

The team, led by professor Song Yujun, said the discovery could offer revolutionary treatment for diseases including cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, the report said. 

What they invented was a near-infrared (NIR) light-responsive nanocarrier for gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 for cancer therapeutics. Their findings were published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday. 

“Using infrared light, the new technique can precisely alter or cut the designated spot in the genome, greatly improving the target effect of gene-editing tool,” Song told the Global Times this week.

The strong penetration ability of infrared light provides possibilities for scientists to precisely control the gene editing tool, CRISPR-Cas9, in deep tissue, the report said.

The CRISPR-Cas9 technique allows genetic materials to be added, removed or altered at particular locations in the genome. But CRISPR-Cas9 is still a challenge to precision medicine worldwide due to its off-target effect and in some cases it may cause cancer in cells, Song said. 

Off-target editing could result in serious consequences in cancer treatment, as it may cut or alter the wrong spot in the genome, thus killing healthy cells instead of cancerous ones, the report said. 

In a notorious experiment that helped create the world’s first gene-edited babies last year, He Jiankui, the scientist who conducted the experiment, used CRISPR-Cas9 to alter the CCR5 gene in twin baby girls. He was widely criticized as the technique cannot guarantee accurate excision of the gene, the report said.

The new technique developed by Song’s team has been tested on mice with tumors, and the result found that the progression of tumors was gradually delayed on the mice that received the new technique for 20 days. 

“However, it’s still far from human clinical trials due to concerns that include the toxic effect of the nano materials as well as needing an ethics review,” Song said. 

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