Posted on Jul 27, 2016, 6 a.m.
Chinese Scientists are about to be the first in the world to use the gene-editing technique on humans, in the hopes of treating cancer.
A team of researchers will be the first in the world to use CRISPR, a gene-editing technique, on human subjects. The team, led by Lu You, an oncologist at Sichuan University’s West China hospital in Chengdu, China, will perform the tests on patients with lung cancer. CRISPR is a revolutionary technique that uses an enzyme called Cas9 to find, cut out, and replace parts of DNA. This gene-editing technique has the potential to cure genetic diseases, change physical aspects of organisms, create pest-resistant crops, and much more. Though the concept of editing human DNA is controversial and many are worried about hereditary effects, this human trial will not involve editing the germ-line; therefore the effects will not be passed on. The Chinese team will use CRISPR to edit T cells removed from the patient’s blood, and disable a gene that encodes for the protein PD-1, a protein that halts an immune response to help prohibit attacks on healthy cells. After inspection to ensure there were no editing errors, the cells will be injected back into the patient’s blood stream, with the hope that this will help the immune system target and kill tumor cells.
The researchers do not know exactly how the body will respond to the edited cells, whether it be a stronger attack on tumor cells, or other complications due to an exceedingly powerful immune system. Thirty patients have been chosen for the clinical trial set to start in August, with one patient receiving the edited cells initially. The patients will be monitored for all responses to analyze the safety and effectiveness of this procedure. The researchers are hoping to see signs of tumor reduction and success.