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And Underway

Researchers in China have begun a clinical trial that involves injecting CRISPR/Cas9-modified immune cells into patients, Nature News reports.

Researchers led by Sichuan University's Lu You collected immune cells from the patient's blood and, using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing approach, disabled the gene encoding the PD-1 protein, Nature News says. That protein typically halts the cellular immune response, and without it, the hope is that the patient's immune system can better fight cancerous cells.

Lu's team got the go-ahead for the trial, which is mostly a safety trial, in July, but Nature News says that the first patient, who has metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer, wasn't treated until late last month because of a delay in culturing the cells that then ran into holidays. Lu tells Nature News that the treatment went smoothly and that the patient is expected to receive a second injection.

A US-based team is also pursuing a trial to test tweaking the PD-1 gene along with the TCR gene of T cells from cancer patients to boost their immune response. The University of Pennsylvania team's trial is expected to start early next, Nature News adds.

"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," adds UPenn's Carl June, who is an advisor to the US trial.