April 16, 2019
Clinicians at the University of Pennsylvania have treated two cancer patients with CRISPR, a gene-editing technology that enables precise modifications to DNA.
The patients were treated as part of a recently launched U.S. CRISPR study at the Abramson Cancer Center, a Penn Medicine spokesperson confirmed Tuesday.
One patient has multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in certain white blood cells. The second patient has sarcoma, a cancer that can occur in the bones and soft tissue.
CRISPR gives scientists the ability to edit DNA more easily, an advantage that could help prevent or treat various diseases.
But the technique has generated ethical concerns given its potential to genetically alter generations to come – particularly after a Chinese doctor controversially used it last year to edit genes in human embryos.
The clinical trial at Penn – and others in the United States – is only focused on treating mutations in adult patients.
The study involves removing immune system cells from patients, according to NPR. They are then genetically modified in a laboratory before being infused back into the patient's body.
"Findings from this research study will be shared at an appropriate time via medical meeting presentation or peer-reviewed publication," the Penn Medicine spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The trial is being funded by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in San Francisco and Tmunity, a Philadelphia biotherapeutics company.