CRISPR-enhanced engineering of therapy-sensitive cancer cells for self-targeting of primary and metastatic tumors

Sci Transl Med. 2018 Jul 11;10(449):eaao3240. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aao3240.


Tumor cells engineered to express therapeutic agents have shown promise to treat cancer. However, their potential to target cell surface receptors specific to the tumor site and their posttreatment fate have not been explored. We created therapeutic tumor cells expressing ligands specific to primary and recurrent tumor sites (receptor self-targeted tumor cells) and extensively characterized two different approaches using (i) therapy-resistant cancer cells, engineered with secretable death receptor-targeting ligands for "off-the-shelf" therapy in primary tumor settings, and (ii) therapy-sensitive cancer cells, which were CRISPR-engineered to knock out therapy-specific cell surface receptors before engineering with receptor self-targeted ligands and reapplied in autologous models of recurrent or metastatic disease. We show that both approaches allow high expression of targeted ligands that induce tumor cell killing and translate into marked survival benefits in mouse models of multiple cancer types. Safe elimination of therapeutic cancer cells after treatment was achieved by co-engineering with a prodrug-converting suicide system, which also allowed for real-time in vivo positron emission tomography imaging of therapeutic tumor cell fate. This study demonstrates self-tumor tropism of engineered cancer cells and their therapeutic potential when engineered with receptor self-targeted molecules, and it establishes a roadmap toward a safe clinical translation for different cancer types in primary, recurrent, and metastatic settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Bystander Effect / drug effects
  • CRISPR-Associated Protein 9 / metabolism
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats / genetics*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • Genes, Transgenic, Suicide
  • Genetic Engineering*
  • Glioblastoma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Mice
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / pathology*
  • Prodrugs / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Death Domain / metabolism
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / pharmacology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Ligands
  • Prodrugs
  • Receptors, Death Domain
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • CRISPR-Associated Protein 9