A clinical trial of a gene-editing technique on advanced lung cancer patients in China has aroused world attention in medical circles.
The potentially revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 technique allows scientists to selectively edit genome parts and replace them with new DNA stretches in the hope that certain diseases like cancer could be cured.
CRISPR, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a collection of DNA sequences that direct Cas9 where to cut and paste. Cas9 is an enzyme that can edit DNA, allowing the alteration of genetic patterns by genome modification.
The trial began in late October as a group of oncologists at the West China Hospital of Sichuan University started injecting genetically modified cells into a patient with aggressive lung cancer.
The editing therapy treatment periods will last from eight to 13 weeks, while the whole trial could last over a year.
Experts around the globe have been discussing the pros and cons of the groundbreaking medical technology.
Carl June, a clinical researcher in immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania, told Nature journal that Chinese scientists' trial is "an exciting step forward."
Naiyer Rizvi, director of Thoracic Oncology at Columbia University Medical Center, told the same journal that the technology is incredible.
Antonio Russo, a professor of Medical Oncology at Palermo University in Italy, is quoted by the journal as saying that the "exciting strategy" of CRISPR offers a "strong rationale."
As the United States is also planning on trials that would also use CRISPR-Cas9 for cancer treatment, experts applauded China's swift movement and hoped China's research, as well as the healthy competition worldwide, could improve modern medical science and finally benefit the patients.
"China places a high priority on biomedical research," said June. "I think this is going to trigger 'Sputnik 2.0,' a biomedical duel on progress between China and the United States, which is important since competition usually improves the end product."
The genetic modifying method also received questions, as many are worried about possible side effects.
In response to such concerns, leader of the Chinese trial Lu You said in August that the treatment approach would be tested in the first phase of the trial.
"The top priority is safety. We will closely monitor the patients," Lu told Xinhua. "The clinical trial is just the beginning, there are a lot of uncertainties, which will require further research."
"Should the approach prove safe, we will consider expanding our research," Lu said, adding that CRISPR-Cas9 technology has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of blood diseases, tumors and other genetic diseases.
(Xinhua News Agency November 17, 2016)