ERNESTO DEL AGUILA III, NHGRIFor the first time, cells with CRISPR-edited genes have been injected into a human, according to Nature News. A team led by oncologist Lu You at Sichuan University in China spearheaded the first CRISPR clinical trial after obtaining ethical approval in July. You and colleagues have edited immune cells from lung cancer tissue and are injecting those cells into one cancer patient to help fight off the disease.
Scientists in the United States had been planning a similar trial for some time. “I think this is going to trigger ‘Sputnik 2.0’, a biomedical duel on progress between China and the United States,” Carl June, who specializes in immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania and is not involved in the trial, told Nature News. “Which is important since competition usually improves the end product.”
The Sichuan University team extracted immune cells from a patient with late-stage lung cancer and then used CRISPR-Cas9 to delete the cells’ PD-1 proteins, which are often hijacked by aggressive cancers to prevent strong immune responses to abnormal cell growth. The researchers have already injected these edited immune cells back into the patient, and now intend to test the same method on nine other patients. Results should be available in six months, You told Nature News.
This would not be first time a gene-editing tool helped fight cancer. In the U.K, a similar gene-editing tool was credited with saving a pediatric leukemia patient’s life. And the notion of neutralizing PD-1 to fight cancer has ample support among oncologists. “It’s an exciting strategy,” Antonio Russo of Palermo University in Italy told Nature News. “The rationale is strong.”