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Scientists develop a rapid gene-editing screen to find effects of cancer mutations

With the new technique, MIT researchers hope to identify mutations that could be targeted with new cancer therapies.

Tumors can carry mutations in hundreds of different genes, and each of those genes may be mutated in different ways — some mutations simply replace one DNA nucleotide with another, while others insert or delete larger sections of DNA.

Until now, there has been no way to quickly and easily screen each of those mutations in their natural setting to see what role they may play in the development, progression, and treatment response of a tumor. Using a variant of CRISPR genome-editing known as prime editing, MIT researchers have now come up with a way to screen those mutations much more easily.

The researchers demonstrated their technique by screening cells with more than 1,000 different mutations of the tumor suppressor gene p53, all of which have been seen in cancer patients. This method, which is easier and faster than any existing approach, and edits the genome rather than introducing an artificial version of the mutant gene, revealed that some p53 mutations are more harmful than previously thought.

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