wakingscience | Rejecting the inherent ability of the human immune system to naturally fight disease on its own, researchers out of China have taken nature to task by introducing a new set of genetic modification techniques that they claim will “enhance” the ability of the human body to attack and destroy cancer cells.
According to reports, the procedure involves injecting extracted immune cells with so-called “CRISPR” technology, which essentially reprograms the ways in which they handle foreign invaders. CRISPR combines a DNA-cutting enzyme with a specific molecular guide that, in essence, changes the way genes express themselves.
As reported in Nature, a team of scientists led by Lu You, an oncologist from Sichuan University in China, have already used CRISPR to “treat” a patient suffering from an aggressive form of lung cancer, which is part of a larger clinical trial currently taking place at West China Hospital.
Previous trials have taken place with similar technologies, but those pushing CRISPR claim that it’s simpler and more efficient than its predecessors. If eventually approved for commercial use, CRISPR would become the world’s first form of genetic modification for humans, opening a Pandora’s box of biotechnology that threatens to further syncretize man and machine.
You’s trial received ethical approval from the hospital board back in July, and so far the results have met his expectations. Immune cells extracted from the test patient’s blood were injected with CRISPR, which in effect disabled the gene codes for certain proteins including PD-1, which under normal circumstances halt’s the body’s immune response, allowing cancer cells to proliferate.
After the reprogramming process was complete, You and his team cultured these cells, replicated them into much larger quantities, and re-injected them back into the patient. Now they wait to see whether or not the genetically-modified (GM) genome successfully overcomes the patient’s metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer.