Whoa! A group of scientists from the People’s Republic of China has successfully injected a living person with cells genetically modified using CRISPR technology. Just last week, we learned that a team led by oncologist Lu You at Sichuan University in Chengdu, injected modified cells into a patient with aggressive lung cancer as part of a clinical trial.
In case you’re wondering what CRISPR is, CRISPR is a fast and relatively cheap gene editing tool used in the biosciences industry. Introduced by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier in 2012, CRISPR was first shown to work in bacterial cell cultures, and the CRISPR-associated proteins was then studied to learn how bacteria use spacers in their immune defenses.
With the hope of eliminating a form of lung cancer that is currently deadly to patients who can’t alleviate their pain with chemotherapy or radiation, Lu’s team will work on the editing therapy treatment periods anywhere from eight weeks to three months, with the whole trial taking approximately one year to complete.
Doctors will start by extracting T immune cells from the patient’s blood and then figure out a way to knock out the gene that encodes the PD-1 protein, a protein that generally puts the brakes on a cell’s immune response. The edited cells will then be multiplied in the lab before being reintroduced to the patients, creating an opportunity for the T cells to launch an assault on the tumor cells.
“It is like building a cancer-fighting army outside the patient’s body,” Lu said during an interview to Xinhua news agency.
That said however, CRISPR isn’t fool-proof as the Cas9 technology can sometimes splice genes at the wrong place, creating more cancer as a result. Let’s not forget what happened to the group of Chinese scientists who ran CRISPR experiments on human embryos that didn’t go very well.
Meanwhile, another group of scientists in the United States of America has proposed a similar study in June of this year. The group has since received $250 million in funding from Sean Parker’s new cancer institute and the team is projected to start work at the University of Pennsylvania after approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Editas Biotechnology has also proposed running a CRISPR trial by 2017 for genes causing blindness in humansand Stanford has plans to conduct a human CRISPR trial to repair genes causing sickle cell anemia.
While fears of China outcompeting us continue to grow like wildfire, a biomedical duel between China and the United States can be beneficial to us common folks in the long run since competition usually improves the end product, which would help those who need them.