Several years ago, people would’ve thought you were crazy for talking about editing a human’s genes to make them stronger. I mean, to most people nowadays that idea is still strange and even seen as impossible. However, scientists are moving in the right direction and are one huge step closer to doing so – or at least testing to see if it works.
Scientists are trying to use CRISPR gene editing, which is a technique for editing genes, on humans to manually alter the DNA. Recently, a US federal advisory panel took a vote and approved that the technique could be used for a study that is said to be held at the University of Pennsylvania’s control.
This technique deals with T-cells, which are white blood cells that are major components to a human’s immune system. This new technology, CRISPR-Cas9, could be a way of altering those T-cells. If we can accomplish that, we can create stronger immune systems in humans that suffer from cancer cells due to melanoma, multiple myeloma and sarcoma.
Carl June, who will be leading the research using the CRISPR, commented on the studies that are about to take place to the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC). “Our preliminary data suggests that we could improve the efficacy of these T-cells if we use CRISPR.”
The trial is proposed to be two years long and will include the use of CAR T-cell treatment, a process that will be tested on a total of 18 patients. What will happen is the team will take out T-cells from the patient and alter the genetics of the DNA with CRISPR. CRISPR is a process that allows scientists to cut, copy and paste DNA fragments wherever they want to – like a Word document. After that, they will put the T cells back into the patient. Hopefully, the T cells will be more effective at taking down tumor cells in the patient.
“Our goal is to develop a new type of immunotherapy using gene-editing technology that will enable the engineered immune cells to be more potent, survive longer, and thereby kill cancer cells more effectively,” the team continued in their interview.
NIH is a panel of advisors that main goal is to protect biosafety and ethics. In a vote that ended unanimously, they agreed that the use of CRISPR could be a huge step for them and that it was worth testing on human patients to get an answer. There was one member of the panel that decided to abstain, however. It was reported that the funding for the research will be funded by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. The institute is a fairly new institute, being founded this year by Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and internet billionaire.
One of the panel members said good things about the process. “It’s an important new approach. We’re going to learn a lot from this. And hopefully it forms the basis of new types of therapy,” they said. Hopefully all goes well!
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