First human DNA editing trial could lead to new cancer treatment

Chinese researchers will be attempting to cut faulty cells from cancer patients

First human DNA editing trial could lead to new cancer treatment

Picture by: PAUL SAKUMA / AP/Press Association Images

Scientists in China will begin to edit adult human DNA for the first time ever next month. 

The researchers will attempt to cut faulty DNA out of the cells of lung cancer patients who have failed to respond to all other conventional treatments.

The team will use the revolutionary CRISPR/Cas-9 tool, commonly known as CRISPR, for the first time anywhere in the world.

If successful, researchers hope it could lead to further effective CRISPR treatments for a range of diseases.

The tool has already had some success in animals as it has been shown to treat genetic diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The trial will take place at Sichuan University's West China Hospital next month and will involve patients who have failed to respond to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

The team will be led by Lu You, an oncologist at Sichuan University’s West China Hospital in Chengdu. 

Mr You told the Nature journal that this trial will give some hope to people with no other treatment options left.

“This technique is of great promise in bringing benefits to patients, especially the cancer patients whom we treat every day.”

Crispr is a groundbreaking technique which can find, cut out and replace specific parts of DNA using a specially programmed enzyme named Cas9.

In the trial, the Chinese team will extract T-cells from patients' blood, then delete a gene that produces a protein called PD-1 - which stops T-cells from targeting and killing cancer cells - from their DNA.

They will then multiply these modified-T cells in the lab and inject them back into the patients to flood their immune system.

The hope is that that by inhibiting the PD-1 protein, the T-cells will be able to track down and wipe out lung cancer cells naturally.

Although CRISPR is capable of also inserting new DNA into a cell's genome, this study will only delete genetic information - none will be added.