Chinese Scientists To Test Gene Modifying Technique ‘CRISPR’ On Humans For The First Time

First Posted: Jul 23, 2016 05:30 AM EDT

It will be the first attempt ever that a group of Chinese scientists will inject genetically modified cells into human beings next month. The genes have been modified using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique. The trial will begin from next month at the West China Hospital, Sichuan University.

Lead oncologist Lu You and his team will test gene-edited cells on lung cancer patients on whom treatments including chemotherapy and radiation therapy have already failed. What the team will do is they will extract immune cells known as T cells from the blood of the patients and use CRISPR-Cas9 to modify them. They will try to eliminate a gene from the cells that encodes a protein named PD-1, which normally keeps immune cells in check but is also used by cancer cells as a defensive mechanism.

The researchers are hoping that after they multiply the modified cells in the lab and re-introduce them into the patients' bloodstream, they will center the cancer and eliminate it. However, it is first to be made sure that the technique is safe, reported Digital Trends.

In the first trial, which begins in August, the research team will inject the CRISPR-edited cells in only one of the three patients in the group. After observing the patient if the team is satisfied by the results, they will perform the same treatment on the second patient. Future trials will depend on how effective the technique is compared to other types of treatment.

"This technique is of great promise in bringing benefits to patients, especially the cancer patients whom we treat every day," said Lu You, reported Daily Mail.

You said that the technology will have wide applications if it has good safety and shows certain efficacy. In fact, it has the potential to become an alternative biotechnology treatment to replace or complement the existing single-antibody drugs, he added, according to journal Nature.

This is for the first time that the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique will be applied on human beings. Previously, Chinese scientists have tested the technique on human embryos and in monkeys and dogs.

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