A cancer cell has 20,000 genes, some of which the cell depend upon, some of which are its Achilles’ heel (weakness).
If a cancer cell was a tree and its genes the branches, cutting off a branch wouldn’t kill the tree, just as deleting a gene wouldn’t kill the cancer cell. By using the CRISPR/Cas 9 technology — which is essentially a genetic scissors that enables us to systematically cut out a gene — we will eventually identify the gene that will allow us to cut away the trunk of the tree in order to destroy the cancer.
While it would take up to 5–10 years to develop a completely new drug, our hope is that an appropriate drug or active molecule already exists in the libraries of one of the pharmaceutical companies or research institutes, allowing it to be quickly developed once the cancer gene is identified.
Working with Dr. Ultan McDermott from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and using the funding we obtained from the Medical Research Council (United Kingdom), we plan to use CRISPR/Cas9 technology on the collection of head and neck cancer cells we’ve collected over the past decade from Malaysian patients to identify the genes that enable these cancers to develop, and to identify novel methods of targeting these genes for cancer treatment.