Skip to Content

CRISPR-Modified Cells Have Been Used in a Person for the First Time

A clinical trial in China aims to see if engineered immune cells can fight off late-stage lung cancer.
November 16, 2016

A team of Chinese scientists has become the first to test CRISPR gene-edited cells in a human. The researchers, from Sichuan University in Chengdu, injected the cells into a patient with advanced lung cancer.

The experiment marks the beginning of an early stage clinical trial designed to test the safety of using CRISPR—a cheap, easy, and reasonably accurate way to edit DNA in living cells—to disable a gene in T-cells that suppresses immune response. According to Nature, which first broke the news of the trial, the injection went “smoothly,” and 10 patients are expected to receive injections.

Genetically modifying immune cells to turn them into cancer-hunters is a technology that’s now a few years old. Treatments remain experimental, though, and because their side effects can be fatal, messing with a patient’s immune system on the genetic level is only done for the sickest patients suffering from a limited subset of cancers.

T-cells surround a cancer cell.

But those techniques—in which immune cells are harvested from a patient, modified, and then returned to their body—involve adding a gene to give the cells a receptor that turns them into cancer-killers. Using CRISPR allowed the researchers to turn off a gene that codes for the PD-1 protein, which prevents the immune system from attacking cancer.

Human trials of CRISPR have been proposed in the U.S., including a scheme to knock out the gene behind PD-1—but so far none have been carried out.

Carl June, a researcher from the University of Pennsylvania who hopes to carry out some of the first such experiments in America, told Nature that he thinks  the news could “trigger ‘Sputnik 2.0,’ a biomedical duel on progress between China and the United States.”

(Read more: Nature, “First Human Test of CRISPR Proposed,” “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2016: Immune Engineering”)

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A view of clouds illuminated by sunlight
A view of clouds illuminated by sunlight

We can’t afford to stop solar geoengineering research

It is the wrong time to take this strategy for combating climate change off the table.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

ai learning to multitask concept
ai learning to multitask concept

Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task

The single technique for teaching neural networks multiple skills is a step towards general-purpose AI.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.