China conducts first gene-editing human trial

pharmafile | November 21, 2016 | News story | Research and Development, Sales and Marketing China, DNA, cas9, crispr 

China has used Crispr/Cas9 gene-editing technology to edit the DNA of a human subject, suffering from metastatic lung cancer. This particular method allows scientists to cut out a piece of DNA from living cell.

In the study, conducted by a team of scientists at West Hospital in Chendu, the scientists edited the cells of a patient suffering from metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. They then cultured the edited cells to produce more before injecting the cells back into the body. The cells were Crispr-modified white blood cells that could potentially boost the immune system’s defences for fighting cancer.

The patient will receive a second injection of modified cells in the future whilst the study will examine the impact upon the patient. Depending on the success of the treatment, a further nine patients could receive two to four treatments.

The study, as a world first, will see the scientists keen to study potential side-effects of the treatment rather than just whether it will cure the patient’s cancer.

With China first to test this new biotechnological potential treatment for cancer, it is thought that this could begin competition between the US and China to further develop the technology. The first human use of Crispr was assumed to be a trial planned for next year, at the University of Pennsylvania. China has become known for moving quickly through the regulatory process and it raises concerns that, if the US were to try keep pace, the regulatory bodies of the US would have to relax their own methods.

This is why the method of treatment is becoming known as the new ‘space race’, with both countries racing to develop this new area as quickly as possible. Of course, there are huge ethical issues surrounding the area, especially as the editing of embryos has begun. This could slow down the process for the US, as regulatory controls are likely to remain relatively strict with a Republican-dominated Senate and House.

Ben Hargreaves

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