Chinese scientists use CRISPR technique to treat cancer patient in study

For the first time ever, Chinese scientists have injected a person with cells that had been tweaked by the genome-editing technique CRISPR, Nature, reported.

The procedure formed part of a clinical trial led by oncologist Lu You at the West China Hospital in Chengdu, which involved editing immune cells from a patient with aggressive lung cancer and then injecting them back into the patient to help defeat the disease.

Though trials with modified cells had been done before, this was the first instance of scientists using cells edited with CRISPR - a genetic copy-and-paste tool that made modifying cells easier and cheaper. With the technique, scientists would be able to make cells grow and multiply faster, in addition to inserting instructions to kill cancer on sight.

A trial with CRISPR-edited cells would start next year in the US to treat various types of cancers in the hope that CRISPR-edited cells would be able to defeat cancer.

The Chinese researchers took immune cells from the patient's blood and then used CRISPR to disable a gene that slowed down the cell's immune response.

Cancer cells take advantage of that weakness to multiply and spread. The researchers then multiplied the edited cells and injected them back into the patient in the hope that the cells would help the patient defeat lung cancer. 

Another group of scientists in the US had proposed a similar study in June of this year.

The $250-million study funded by American entrepreneur and philanthropist Sean Parker, who cofounded the file-sharing computer service Napster), new cancer institute would be conducted at the University of Pennsylvania.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) had already given the go ahead for the research  but it was still awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Scientists had already tried to test other gene editing techniques to treat human diseases and though one method taking on HIV had been found to be effective,  CRISPR offered a much simpler path to healing by using an enzyme to snip out an unwanted genetic code.