Chinese patient is first to be treated with CRISPR-edited cells

illustration of scissors cutting DNA

Researchers used molecular scissors called CRISPR/Cas9 to engineer immune cells that were then injected into a patient with lung cancer, Nature reports.


Chinese scientists have injected a person with CRISPR/Cas9-edited cells, marking the first time cells altered with the technique have been used in humans. Researchers used the powerful gene editor to alter immune cells to fight lung cancer, Nature reports November 15.

Immune cells called CAR-T cells have already been engineered using other gene-editing technologies. A baby’s leukemia was successfully treated in 2015 with CAR-T cells engineered with gene editors known as TALENs.

Chinese researchers led by oncologist Lu You of Sichuan University in Chengdu got approval to conduct the new trial this summer. U.S. researchers have gotten clearance to begin similar clinical trials.

You’s team removed immune cells from a patient with lung cancer. They then used CRISPR/Cas9 as molecular scissors to cut and inactivate the PD-1 gene in T cells. That gene’s protein usually holds immune cells back from attacking tumors. The hope is that the edited cells will now go on the offensive and help the patient fight cancer. Researchers plan to give the patient a second dose of engineered cells, Nature reports.

The researchers’ progress with the technique could spark a space race–style biomedical competition between the United States and China, Carl June, an immunotherapist at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told Nature. “I think this is going to trigger ‘Sputnik 2.0,’” he said, hopefully improving the end product.

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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