Using CRISPR, Chinese researchers safely manipulated the DNA of a living patient in an effort to cure his disease. This is a major milestone in the field of gene editing since the same technology was used last year by a Chinese scientist to create the world’s first genetically engineered babies.
The patient’s dual diseases — HIV and cancer — gave researchers at the Peking University Stem Cell Research Center in Beijing an opening. The man needed a transplant of stem cells to replace the damaged ones that were causing his blood cancer. That procedure also gave them the opportunity to re-engineer a gene called CCR5 in the donor cells to be resistant to HIV. No damage to the man’s DNA was seen during his treatments, nor were there any adverse events. However, a limitation was noted as only 5% of the cells were affected.
“This is a green light for the whole field of gene editing,” Carl June, a pioneer in the use of gene therapy to treat cancer and HIV at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an interview.
Data on three patients treated with CRISPR-manipulated cells at the University of Pennsylvania, perhaps the first in the U.S., will be presented at the American Society of Hematology meeting in December.
This may be the beginning of a new era of advancement in the field of gene editing, but only time will tell.
Call to Action: Learn more about the details of this man’s case, as reported in The New England Journal of Medicine.