China pushing the boundaries of CRISPR gene-editing
The Scientists there have now cured One man’s Cancer while trying to treat his HIV with the revolutionary tool
China has been the harbinger of technological innovation in recent times. While the bold, yet sometimes controversial initiatives of its scientists & researchers to put these novel technologies to work have been criticized elsewhere, it hasn’t stopped the Chinese from experimenting. One such area of application is the gene-editing tool called CRISPR.
Back in November 2018, He Jiankui, a Chinese biophysicist, rocked the Medical World with his revelation announcing that he had genetically modified the DNA of the twin baby girls (whom he named Lulu & Nana), using the CRISPR tool before bringing them into the World. “China’s Frankenstein” used CRISPR to damage a single gene called CCR5 to make the twin girls immune to infection by HIV.
Now, Chinese Scientists are back in the news with the use of the CRISPR tool for trying to treat an HIV & Cancer infected male. And the results are promising to say the least. The story starts back in 2016 when a 27-year-old young man was diagnosed with both HIV & Cancer and his odds of surviving this double diagnosis were bleak.
However, all hope was not lost — he was given the news that he was eligible for the first-ever clinical trial of using the CRISPR gene-editing tool to safely treat both the deadly medical conditions. In July 2017, doctors started the treatment by wiping out his bone marrow with chemicals & radiation. This was done to make room for millions of healthy donor stem cells, which were eventually pumped into his body through an IV.
This is where CRISPR comes in — doctors then crippled the gene CCR5, which provides the gateway to HIV virus into the immune cells. It’s two years later now, and the patient is still surviving with the detailed report of this treatment published in the New England Journal of Medicine. There is good news & bad news.
Good news first… The patient is in good health, with the Cancer in full remission & the edited stem cells providing a healthy supply of the blood and the immune cells. The bad news is that he still remains infected with the HIV virus, but on antiretroviral drugs to keep the deadly virus in check. Scientists still feel the results are promising since not only were they able to able to cure patient’s Cancer, but it is evident that using CRISPR in humans is safe.
“The safety profile appears to be acceptable,” pioneering cancer researcher Carl June wrote in an accompanying editorial to the published report.
It is amazing to see the breathtaking pace at how the CRISPR treatment has developed from trial treatments in mice a couple of years ago to actual human treatment. Technology continues to open new avenues of medical treatment options. In related news, a new AI system has detected heart failure from 10 seconds of ECG data with 100% accuracy.
Seems like Chinese scientists have moved past the stage of addressing ethical concerns around the use of this novel & revolutionary medical technology. And the permissive technological & biomedical research regulations in the country have prompted them to move forward with viable medical treatment options for deadly diseases like Cancer & HIV.