Chinese Scientists to Rewrite Human DNA for the First Time in History

Monday, 25 July 2016 - 5:21PM
Technology
Genetic Engineering
Monday, 25 July 2016 - 5:21PM
Chinese Scientists to Rewrite Human DNA for the First Time in History
Editing the human genome has been a controversial topic in the scientific community, but next month, a group of Chinese researchers are pushing full steam ahead. In the first human trial for the CRISPR/Cas-9 gene editing tool, scientists will attempt to excise "bad" genes in advanced lung cancer patients.

CRISPR is a tool that allows scientists to essentially "cut and paste" DNA in the genome, which has already proven effective in treating certain heritable diseases, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and sickle-cell anemia. The ethical board approved the new study on July 6, which will see the researchers inject genetically modified immune T-cells in lung cancer patients. The modified T-cells will be specially tailored to attack the cancer cells rather than healthy cells, which is one of the primary issues with non-targeted treatments like chemotherapy.

The study will only be conducted with patients who have stopped responding to traditional treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, and would otherwise be faced with stopping treatment altogether.

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"Treatment options are very limited," team leader Lu You told Nature. "This technique is of great promise in bringing benefits to patients, especially the cancer patients whom we treat every day."
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But still, the decision will likely be controversial. Chinese scientists previously edited the genomes of non-viable human embryos, which led to widespread outcry from scientists and a call for a moratorium on human genome editing from the White House. But still, the technology has continued to progress and become more accepted, with the UK's regulatory body becoming the first to officially sanction human genetic modification in embryos. But this will be the first trial on living humans, and has the potential to change the face of medical science as we know it.

Image credit: MIT

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