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A CRISPR gene-editing method could lead to cancer, studies warn

Illustration of double helix DNA and red marks "editing" it.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Editing cell genomes with CRISPR-Cas9 might increase the risk of developing cancer, two studies published Monday warn, STAT News reports.

Why it matters: The goal of altering cells with CRISPR, a gene-editing tool, is to treat disease, not cause it. If these new results hold up, they could present an insurmountable roadblock for the development of certain CRISPR-based therapies. They are unlikely to stop all CRISPR-based treatment, however.

  • Already, stocks for CRISPR Therapeutics, Editas Medicine, Intellia Therapeutics, and Sangamo Therapeutics have tanked over the reports. These companies are developing treatments for diseases based on the CRISPR techniques the two studies call into question.

The science: The results of these studies likely only apply to one way that CRISPR Cas9 edits genomes, when it replaces disease-causing DNA with modified, healthy versions, per STAT News. It is possible the results don’t apply to another method, which cuts DNA out.

  • What they’re saying: The results are “plausible,” the CEO of CRISPR Therapeutics, Sam Kulkarni, told STAT.

Trend: It’s not the first time CRISPR has run into trouble. A claim in a paper last year that CRISPR caused many off-target side-effects was retracted over interpretations of data, and a report that that humans may be immune to Cas9 was determined to be something that could be worked around.