A team of researchers from China have created history by being the first in the entire world to test the incredibly innovative CRISPR/ Cas9 gene-editing technique in a human patient. The modified cells were injected last month by scientists at Chengdu’s Sichuan University, as an antidote to aggressive forms of lung cancer.
Discovered by in 2012, CRISPR/Cas9 offers a revolutionary, new way of treating a myriad of diseases by simply cutting and pasting genes from the patient’s DNA. Working similar to a pair of molecular scissors, this technology allows researchers to alter genes as well as add new ones more efficiently and accurately than ever before. It has already undergone extensive animal testing, and has even been used to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) in mice.
In the past, the technique has been employed during experiments on non-viable human embryos. The current research, however, marks the first time that scientists have injected CRISPR-edited cells in an adult human. Part of a clinical trial at the West China Hospital, the study involved the collection of blood sample from a patient with lung cancer, which was then used to extract specific immune cells.
With the help of the advanced CRISPR technology, the team was able to deactivate a particular gene responsible for the production of the protein PD-1. PD-1, according to the scientists, is known to slow down the body’s immune mechanisms, instead facilitating the growth of cancer cells. Following that, the modified cells were allowed to proliferate in a lab culture, before being injected into the patient.
As revealed by the team’s leader Lu You, the first phase of treatment went smoothly, and the patient is getting ready for the second treatment. During the trial, the researchers will be testing the gene-editing technique in a total of 10 people, each of whom will receive somewhere between two and four injections. While the United States has a similar CRISPR trial planned for next year, China is working towards three additional trials for March of 2017.
These trials will primarily focus on fighting different types of cancer, including prostate, bladder and kidney cancers. Speaking about the upcoming CRISPR trials in the two countries, Carl June from the University of said:
I think this is going to trigger ‘Sputnik 2.0’, a biomedical duel on progress between China and the United States. [It’s] important since competition usually improves the end product.
At present, the team is trying to gauge the safety of such a treatment technique in humans. Its efficiency in combating certain diseases will be determined in future trials. Naiyer Rizvi of the Columbia University Medical Center added:
The technology to be able to do this is incredible.