Scientists in Pennsylvania have confirmed that two cancer patients in the United States are being treated using the powerful gene-editing tool known as CRISPR.
Ever since making waves in the scientific community, CRISPR has become a beacon of hope in finding the cure for many diseases, as it allows experts to make meticulous and precise modifications to DNA.
Now, researchers in the University of Pennsylvania revealed that a U.S. CRISPR study that aims to treat cancer is already underway.
Using CRISPR As A Tool Against Cancer
A spokesperson from the University of Pennsylvania told NPR that one of the patients being treated was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, while the second patient was diagnosed with sarcoma. Both patients had relapsed after undergoing standard treatment.
CRISPR works by removing, modifying, and reinserting immune cells in the hopes that they will destroy cancerous cells, the researchers said.
Details of the U.S. clinical trials are not available yet, although some information can be accessed at ClinicalTrials.gov. The spokesperson said that details will be disclosed through a presentation or a peer-reviewed paper.
Moreover, the study has been approved to treat 18 cancer patients.
CRISPR Studies All Over The World
The U.S. CRISPR study is not the first of its kind.
In 2016, a team of Chinese scientists from Sichuan University received ethical approval from the West China Hospital to test genetically altered cells on lung cancer patients using CRISPR.
Indeed, most of the clinical trials that use CRISPR are in China, which has aimed to treat various forms of cancer.
Meanwhile, more clinical trials involving CRISPR are being set up in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and some of these trials extend to other diseases.
For instance, two trials sponsored by Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston and CRISPR Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aim to treat genetic blood disorders. One trial is for beta thalassemia, while the other is for sickle cell disease.
"2019 is the year when the training wheels come off and the world gets to see what CRISPR can really do for the world in the most positive sense," said gene-editing scientist Fyodor Urnov from the University of California, Berkeley.
Ethical questions remain over the use of CRISPR on human beings.
The world was stunned when reports of a Chinese scientist who used CRISPR to create genetically modified babies made the headlines.
Chinese scientist He Jiankui admitted in November 2018 that he used CRISPR to edit embryos for seven couples during fertility treatment. This led to the birth of two twin girls whose DNA were engineered to protect them from contracting HIV/AIDS.
Ever since, scientists have called for a moratorium regarding the gene-editing of heritable traits.
There is also an important difference between what the Chinese scientist did and what the U.S. CRISPR study hopes to achieve. The changes that He did could be passed down from generation to generation, while the U.S. CRISPR study will be used to edit DNA to fight against cancer.
Researchers assure that there is no cause for concern. Those who are conducting the CRISPR studies have conducted careful preliminary research, and their work have gone through extensive scientific and ethical review.
Meanwhile, it will take many years before any CRISPR treatment is available for the public. Until then, scientists will continue to perform studies to find effective treatment for patients.