A group of Chinese scientists will soon become the first in the world to inject modified cells on humans using the gene-editing technique called CRISPR. The scientists, who got ethical approval from the board of West China Hospital in Chengdu on July 6, plan to apply the technique on lung cancer patients this coming August.
The journal Nature reports that CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) will be utilized to detect, cut out and replace DNA parts using an enzyme called Cas9. In other words, CRISPR-Cas9 is like genetic engineering scissors that can accurately edit our DNA.
According to lead scientist Lu You, an oncologist at Sichuan University’s West China Hospital, the clinical trial will involve patients who have metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. The gene-editing technique also aims to benefit those who did not get better with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other treatments.
“I hope we are the first,” adds Lu. “And more importantly, I hope we can get positive data from the trial.”
The test subjects’ immune cells will be extracted from their blood and will be added with a new genetic sequence through CRISPR. After this, the immune cells will be re-introduced into the bloodstream. The scientists expect that the new genetic sequence will boost the participants’ immune systems to eliminate cancer.
CRISPR was also used by other Chinese scientists at Nanjing University. In 2014, the research team used the technique to engineer mutations in macaques with success. This marked the first application of the gene-editing technique in non-human primates.
Meddling with genes is a controversial subject. However, University of Pennsylvania’s clinical researcher, Carl June, fully supports the group and says that the plan is groundbreaking.
Despite criticisms, editing one’s genes can also provide countless improvements to health. It can be used to correct genetic disorders, including those that can be fatal to human beings.