The application has successfully undergone all safety regulations, although traditionally the advisory board has rejected such testing on humans due to safety concerns and ethics issues. However, this time the experiment has a concrete chance of yielding a real breakthrough in the field of medicine as researchers might develop a totally new approach to cancer, enabling successful treatment.
"It's an important new approach. We're going to learn a lot from this. And hopefully it will form the basis of new types of therapy," the journal cited clinical oncologist Michael Atkins of Georgetown University in Washington, DC as saying.
During their experiment, the research team is planning to use the red-hot gene-editing tool CRISPR to try to improve human immune cells that will allow the body to effectively combat cancer. CRISPR is expected to modify three different genome sites at once, a complicated procedure which has not been easy to carry out until now.
"For the CRISPR trial, a UPenn-led team wants to remove T cells from patients and use a harmless virus to give the cells a receptor for NY-ESO-1, a protein that is often present on certain tumors but not on most healthy cells. The modified T cells are then re-infused back into a patient and, if all goes well, attack the person's NY-ESO-1-displaying tumors," the journal wrote.
The experiments are expected to last for two years, and will be attended by 18 volunteers with various types of cancer: sarcoma, melanoma and myeloma. The genetic research will be carried out in three research centers: the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Houston and the University of California in San Francisco.