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.