Chinese researchers using CRISPR gene editing in human patients: What could be the danger?

| Jul 25, 2016 08:28 PM EDT

CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to create genetic changes in the cells.

A team of researchers in China is planning to use the controversial gene editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 to treat lung cancer patients in the country. The clinical trial, scheduled to be performed in August, will make use of the technique to modify the immune cells of the patients.

The Chinese scientists are set to become the first ones in the world to use the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique to treat human patients. According to Yahoo, the team of clinical researchers is planning to modify the immune cells of the lung cancer patients as a possible treatment method in cases where other conventional methods of lung cancer treatment have failed to give any positive results.

Researchers hope that immune cells edited through CRISPR/Cas9 technique will attack the cancer cells and hence, lead to an improvement of the condition of the lung cancer patients. The team believes that gene editing has a potential to bring benefits to cancer patients who are treated everyday around the world.

During the study, a team led by oncologist Lu You from the Sichuan University will modify the immune cells of the lung cancer patients using the genetic engineering scissors or CRISPR/Cas9 technique. The use of this technique allows scientists to cut DNA of an individual or an animal with precision and accuracy.

The team plans to start by extracting the T-cells from the bloodstream of the patients before modifying them using the gene editing technique. CRISPR/Cas9 technique would enable researchers to remove the PD-1 gene from T-cells. This gene prevents the T-cells from attacking other healthy cells in the body that possess a companion PD-L1 protein.

There are many cancer cells that start to express PD-L1 marker as a defensive mechanism so that they are prevented against the T-cells attack. By modifying the cells and disabling the PD-1 gene and PD-1 protein, the researchers hope to destroy the cancer cells in lung cancer patients.

After modifying a few T-cells, the research team plans to multiply them in the lab and inject it into the bloodstream of the patients. The T-cells would then make their way to the cancer cells through circulating blood.

As of now, the team is planning to conduct the first clinical trial to check whether it is safe to use approach in case of humans. The researchers could potentially end up overstimulating the immune system because of newly injected genetically modified T-cells. Such immune cells can also attack other healthy cells in the body, including that of the gut and the adrenaline glands, according to the Guardian.

The following video talks about CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing method:

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