First human treated with CRISPR

Share this article

Back in October, CRISPR was applied for the first time in the treatment of a human being. The patient was being treated for an aggressive form of lung cancer. In a form of immunotherapy, patient immune cells were isolated and genetically modified with CRISPR. By disabling the gene PD-1, scientist removed a molecular brake on the immune cells, a well-known strategy to stimulate their attack on cancer cells. The genetically edited cells are then cultured and reinjected into the patient, where they can (hopefully) eliminate the tumor cells. Since antibodies to block PD-1 have been successful in lung cancer patients, hopes are high for the new cell-based strategy.

While the genetic engineering of immune cells is possible without the use of CRISPR, the new gene editing technique has made the procedure a whole lot easier and more efficient than alternative approaches.

The therapy was carried out as part of a phase I clinical trial at the West China Hospital in Chengdu. Carl June, immunotherapy expert at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia believes the news will accelerate efforts to get CRISPR into the clinic: “I think this is going to trigger ‘Sputnik 2.0’, a biomedical duel on progress between China and the United States, which is important since competition usually improves the end product,” he says.