The world’s first clinical test of CRISPR (acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, a gene editing technology) will be conducted in China.
Gene editing refers to the technology of inserting or deleting a segment to “edit” certain genes. CRISPR is the most attractive “gene editing” technology because it facilitates the synthesis of the compound of crrna/tracrrna. This compound can lead nuclease to find a certain part of DNA and replace it with parts of its own. As a widely influential technology, it can change the color of mice’s fur, design pest-resistant crops and mosquitos that don’t transmit malaria, and modify genes that cause hereditary diseases such as drepanocytemia.
China has long been on the cutting edge of the study of CRISPR. In 2014, researchers from Nanjing University announced that they had successfully accomplished gene editing in monkeys by directed mutation, the first recorded successful application of this technology on non-human primates.
The clinical test, performed by a team of scientists from West China Hospital of Sichuan University in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan Province, has received ethics approval from a review committee of the hospital. Professor Lu You, head of the project, said that the first test would be conducted to treat lung cancer, a growing disease with a high mortality rate in China. The team plans to recruit some patients with advanced lung cancer whose symptoms weren’t relieved by conventional treatment, extract immunocytes from their blood and insert a new gene segment which will cause the immune system to evacuate a tumor. After CRISPR, the edited cells are injected into patients’ blood.
Incidentally, the gene editing technology used in the clinical test by West China Hospital doesn’t work on reproductive genes, so any results won’t be passed to offspring.