Scientists at the West China Hospital in Chengdu have won the race to use CRISPR in humans. The team injected a lung cancer patient with cells that had been altered using the gene-editing technique as part of a clinical trial that will eventually involve 10 different subjects.
CRISPR is a revolutionary new method that involves cutting strands of DNA at specific points using enzymes derived from bacteria and then inserting new genetic material. Earlier this year, scientists in the US became the first to receive permission to try out the technique on humans, but with their trial not set to begin until next year, they have been beaten to the punch by their Chinese counterparts.
The first participant received an injection of modified immune cells on October 28. These cells had originally been extracted from the patient’s blood, before researchers used CRISPR to disable the gene that codes for a protein called PD-1, which halts cells’ immune response.
It is because of this that cancers are able to proliferate without being destroyed by the immune system, and the hope is that by injecting these modified cells back into the patient, their immune activity will be kick-started, causing them to eliminate the cancer.
Each participant in the study is set to receive several rounds of injections, and while it is hoped that CRISPR will soon yield new treatments for cancer, at the moment the researchers are just testing out whether or not the technique is safe to use on humans. Patients will therefore be monitored for six months in order to determine whether or not they experience any adverse effects.
Should the trial be a success, it could open the door for the use of CRISPR as a treatment for a wide variety of conditions. As well as using the gene-editing technique to tackle cancer, scientists are also touting it as a possible weapon against blindness and many other disorders.