According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), doctors at the University of Pennsylvania have proposed the first human use of CRISPR technology to treat cancer. The treatment is designed to target myeloma, melanoma, and sarcomas using a patient’s own genetically altered blood cells.

Blood cells edited using other methods have been used before to treat conditions such as leukemia, but experts consider CRISPR to be the easiest to use. The team's proposed method involves more extensive genetic engineering than what was achieved prior, and is also more cost-effective and time-efficient.

A healthy human T cell. NIAID/NIH

The research group intends to use human T cells, cells responsible for attacking foreign substances in the body, and engineering them to seek out  cancer cells. Two genes will be removed from the cells, including PD-1 (programmed death-1), which is involved in the regulation of T cell function. By removing PD-1, T cells may be able to succeed in dealing with some tumor's ability to avoid detection.

“While the application of new gene editing technologies in this field has great potential to improve human health, it is not without concerns,” said Carrie Wolinetz, the associate director of science policy at NIH. Modified T cells can be dangerous since they may cause a person's immune system to attack its own tissue.

The proposal will be reviewed by the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC). More information about this meeting is available on the OSP website.

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