A technique to use a patient’s own modified immune cells to treat cancer just cleared the first U.S. human safety trial.
In the study, published in Science on Feb. 6, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center and Stanford University took immune cells from three cancer patients, turbocharged their cancer-detecting sensors, and used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to modify the cells to make them more effective against the disease. Then they infused the cells back into the patients. The experiment marks the first time scientists have attempted to make three gene edits at the same time.
None of the patients showed any adverse effects from the treatment. The edited immune cells migrated to the intended locations and still circulated in the patients’ blood up to nine months later.
The test only measured safety, not effectiveness. Clinically, the patients suffered no dangerous side effects from the therapy, but they didn’t respond to it either. Cancer claimed the life of one of the patients, and it progressed in the other two. But passing the safety trial gives researchers a green light for more tests using CRISPR to treat cancer.
“Previous studies have shown these cells lose function within days, so the fact that the CRISPR-edited cells in this study retained anti-tumor function for a significantly longer period of time after a single infusion is very encouraging,” lead researcher Carl June said. —J.B.