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China completes first human trial with CRISPR-edited genes

There's still a ton of research and testing to do before this cancer treatment goes mainstream, though.
Timothy J. Seppala, @timseppala
November 15, 2016
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Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

As predicted, it happened: On October 28th, Chinese oncologists at Sichuan University were the first in the world to insert CRISPR-modified cells into a patient suffering from an aggressive form of lung cancer, according to Nature. The journal reports that this first round of treatment in a safety trial went well enough to warrant a second injection of the Cas9-edited cells, and that nine more people will undergo the treatments in the future. From there, the patients will be monitored for at least six months, if not longer, to "determine whether the injections are causing serious adverse effects."

The idea behind the continued monitoring is to ensure that the edited cells act as they should. That is, that their (now deactivated) PD-1 proteins no longer halt a cell's immune response and let cancer spread. "The hope is, without PD-1, the edited cells will attack and defeat the cancer," Nature wrote.

This might not be the silver bullet against cancer, though. Naiyer Rizvi from Columbia University's Medical Center posits that the gene editing process could encounter a roadblock because it's a complex procedure and isn't very scalable -- especially compared to other methods like using antibodies.

"Unless it shows a large gain in efficacy, it will be hard to justify moving forward," he said.
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