Using the gene-editing system known as CRISPR, MIT researchers have shown in mice that they can generate colon tumors that very closely resemble human tumors. This advance should help scientists learn more about how the disease progresses and allow them to test new therapies.

“That’s been a missing piece in the study of colon cancer. There is really no reliable method for recapitulating the metastatic progression from a primary tumor in the colon to the liver,” says Omer Yilmaz, an MIT assistant professor of biology, a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and the lead senior author of the study, which appears in the May 1 issue of Nature Biotechnology.

The study builds on recent work by Tyler Jacks, the director of the Koch Institute, who has also used CRISPR to generate lung and liver tumors in mice.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: Lab research involving animal cells is frequently the first step toward better understanding what is possibly occurring inside the body. Although humans and mice look very different on the outside, at the cellular level we have many more similarities than differences. Because mice can grow tumors quickly, and also respond swiftly to effective treatments, they provide a way for us to obtain potentially helpful information. CRISPR technology is an exciting method for performing such studies.