On Wednesday, the first try to use CRISPR, a gene-editing method, in treating cancer was implemented by a team of doctors of the University of Pennsylvania. The results seem to be promising in 3 patients who participated in the experiment. However, it is too soon to conclude that this technique would improve their survival chance.
The scientists could extract immune system cells from the blood of these patients and make some genetic changes. The main goal is to ensure that these components would recognize cancer cells and fight against them, with controllable and minimal side effects.
During the procedure, 3 genes were removed as they prevent these cells from attacking cancer components. Also, another gene was added to improve the function.
“This is the most complex cellular and genetic engineering that has been tried so far,” said Dr. Edward Stadtmauer, the leader of the study. “This proves that we would edit the genes of those cells safely.”
After around 8 to 12 weeks, the condition of a patient kept worsening, while the second one was stable. Another patient started the treatment too recently and still waited for the results. The study is going to include 15 more participants to figure out the mechanism and safety of the method.
“It is still early to conclude, but I am extremely encouraged by the initial results,” said a cancer expert.
Gene editing is a method of changing DNA permanently to deal with the main triggers of cancer. CRISPR is a technique to cut DNA in a particular area. It has long been used in the laboratory and is being attempted for other medical conditions.
This research does not try to change DNA inside the body. Instead, it plans to remove, adjust and give back to the cells which are powerful enough to fight against cancer cells.
Chinese doctors have attempted this method, but this is the first time CRISPR is carried out in another country. It is so new that the regulators in the US only approves the technique after more than 2 years of consideration.
The early report was published by the American Society of Hematology. Other details and information will be provided in December at the annual conference.
The project is sponsored by many academic institutions and a biotech firm. These organizations would benefit from the licenses and patents on this new technology.