by SARAH K. BURRIS
A federal safety and ethics panel at the National Institute of Health approved the first ever clinical trial involving gene-editing of human cells using the technology Crispr-Cas9.
Crispr-Cas9 is a “gene editor” and short for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” The work is part of the “moon shot” to end cancer being done at the University of Pennsylvania. Their goal is to edit immune cells so that they will attack cancer like they would a virus, according to Fusion.
The technique is what Vice President Joe Biden would call a BFD in the world of genetics and if it is effective, can be used not only to fight some cancers but tested on other fatal and debilitating diseases.
According to a presentation acquired by biotech reporter Antonio Regalado, the work involves removing patients’ T cells and using Crispr to slice two genes that they hope will allow the cells to attack and kill tumor cells. A similar experiment has been done on blood cancers but proved unsuccessful.
The experiment must still pass approval from the Food and Drug Administration and the boards of the three medical centers where the researcher will be conducted.
Some oppose the work being done. Last year, a group of 30 scientists and activists called for a global ban on genetic modification. Fearful science fiction addicts look to films like Gattaca and Jurassic Park that resulted in a dystopian future for the world. Others believe this is a baby step toward genetically engineering humans and replacing what some believe is a holy entity with a scientist. Chinese scientists have already claimed to have genetically created embryos but did not bring the embryo to term to test if it could live. Those on the left fear “Monstanto-style” GMOs.
Some bring up the ethical question on whether something constitutes a genetic defect or simply a different life experience. Anti-intervention advocates might argue that “God made me blind for a reason” as an example. While other would want to take advantage of scientific advancements to restore sight.