In a global first, scientists in China have injected a human with cells genetically modified to fight cancer using a controversial gene-editing test. The team used a technique known as ‘CRISPR-Cas9’
The technique uses tags which identify the location of the mutation, and an enzyme, which acts as tiny scissors, to cut DNA in a precise place, allowing small portions of a gene to be removed. By editing this tag, scientists are able to target the enzyme to specific regions of DNA and make precise cuts, wherever they like.
In this case, the cut turned off the gene which makes the protein, PD-1. This protein normally puts the brakes on a cell’s immune response: cancers take advantage of that function to spread. The team then cultured the edited cells, increasing their number, before injecting them back into the patient. They hope the edited cells will go on to attack and defeat the cancer. Lu You, who led the study, told Nature, “Treatment options are very limited. This technique is of great promise in bringing benefits to patients, especially the cancer patients whom we treat every day”.
The researchers told Nature that the treatment went smoothly, and that the participant will get a second injection, but declined to give details because of patient confidentiality. A total of 10 people are scheduled to be treated, each who will receive up to four injections. The trial is primarily to test the safety of the technique, and patients will be closely monitored for six months to determine whether there are any side effects, the daily report said. The achievement by Chinese scientists could spark a biomedical race between China and the US, experts claim