On October 28, Chinese oncologists injected a lung cancer patient with cells whose genes have been edited by CRISPR-Cas9. This is the first time that doctors have used the revolutionary gene-editing process on a human being. CRISPR-Cas9 uses an enzyme to cut strands of DNA in cells so they may be removed, edited, or replaced.
In this case, the scientists removed a protein that suppresses T-cells’ immune responses. They hope that without this protein, the T-cells will aggressively pursue and destroy cancerous cells in the patient’s body. The patient is a part of a group of 10 individuals who will receive between two and four injections.
A similar trial in the US is set to proceed in 2017 for cancer treatment. 18 patients with several types of cancers will receive three injections to help T-cells identify cancerous cells, disable the protein that suppresses them, and then prevent the cancer cells from disabling the T-cells.
The expansion of CRISPR-Cas9 to humans could allow parents to create “designer babies” that are resistant to diseases and have favorable genetic traits. While the technology must advance greatly and pass numerous regulatory hurdles, consumers should pay attention to the progress of CRISPR.
Check out this TED talk for a description of CRISPR-Cas9 and the possibilities it brings to the world of health.
Copyright for image: logos2012 / 123RF Stock Photo