CRISPR has been seemingly all over the place and there’s quite a dispute about the fame, glory and the millions of dollars to be made with this revolutionary treatment. The researchers behind the discovery of CRISPR surely will be in the mix for the Nobel Prize but the business side of Genetics is already steaming ahead without asking whom the patent shall belong to.
In all this controversy a message just burst in on a revolutionary treatment the Chinese are about to implement on human DNA in an attempt to rewrite the history of Genetics altogether.
So what happened? Chinese researchers now announced that they will be editing adult human DNA for the first time in the world using CRISPR/CAS-tools.
Using this revolutionary kind of genome editing, researchers will try to cut damaged DNA out of a lung cancer patient who otherwise did not respond to any conventional treatment.
CRISPR has already been used in the past, but only on cultured cells, plants, animals and non-viable human embryos. This operation though marks the first time that any researcher will use the tool to edit an adult’s DNA.
The hope, of course, is that it could lead to further potential CRISPR treatments as its not only effective in theory but incredibly simple and versatile to set up and use. Researchers had great difficulty finding the right so called ‘molecular scissors’ for a specific gene in the past. CRISPR on the other hand is a programmable tool that can be easily applied to any part of a genome without a costly development to back it up.
Chinese scientists from the Sichuan University’s West China Hospital are going to start their new trial as soon as next month involving cancer patients that ran ‘out of options’.
In the upcoming trial scientists will eventually extract T-cells from the patients’ blood in order to delete the gene that’s producing a specific protein called PD-1. The protein stops T-cells from correctly identifying cancer cells and, thus are not able to kill the outgrowing cells.
Once the T-cells have been CRISPR-modified and multiplied they can be injected back into the patients, flooding their immune system. This way, cancer cells will be accurately tracked and ultimately wiped out naturally. More importantly, unlike in the past genetic information will only be deleted, not added.
In the years before, there have been serious ethical concerns surrounding the use of CRISPR as it could lead humanity to a new dawn of Eugenics where practices might be carried out for the pure reason of improving the genetic quality of the population — whatever that means. CRISPR in fact is capable of causing genetic changes to sperm and/or egg cells that might be passed down to future generations. The potential for a whole business developing ‘designer babies’ and humans with certain ‘abilities’ is something we should definitely keep in the back of our minds.
Indeed, immunotherapies and gene editing have been performed in the past, already with success in the area of formerly incurable leukemia or just producing ‘mixed results’… but as for now, CRISPR edited T-cells could be the only hope left for cancer patients longing for life!
Similar trials have been approved by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) so it’s only a matter of months until researchers try to combat cancer over here, using this powerful new tool at our disposal.
Whatever happens, exciting times and opportunities await.