US committee green-lights CRISPR-Cas9 human cancer cell trials

Genetics builder and breakers hope to bolster treatments

A United States advisory committee has green-lighted use of the ground-breaking CRISPR gene-editing technique in human trials.

The committee within the US National Institutes of Health approved the use of CRISPR-Cas9 for cancer treatment in which tests will be conducted on immune T cells extracted from melanoma patients.

The CRISPR-Cas9 technique is described as perfect for cutting and modifying DNA. It promises the most effective means to treat disease and some of the world's most intractable conditions.

Study leader Edward Stadtmauer of the University of Pennsylvania told Nature gene editing could improve cancer treatment.

“Cell therapies [for cancer] are so promising but the majority of people who get these therapies have a disease that relapses,”

The shortDNA sequences in which is CRISPR is present were found in 1987, while the Cas9 technique was discovered in 2012 by Dr Jennifer A Doudna .

The initial trial by the University of Pennsylvania is backed by US$250 million (£169 million, A$333 million) from the immunotherapy foundation formed by former Facebook president Sean Parker.

It will examine the effectiveness of CRISPR in human trials extracting T cells from 18 patients.

The technique will remove T-cells, inject a manufactured gene to target cancer cells, and remove separate genes that can interfere with the process.

It follows the approval of CRISPR CAs9 human trials in the UK, the first to be formally approved by a government.

Blighty's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority approved London's Francis Crick Institute to explore the earliest moments of human life using the technique.

The Institute's Dr Kathy Niakan will conduct research into one week-old embryos which are the size of about 250 cells.

That approval in February came five months after the Chinese breakthrough research was announced. ®

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