First clinical trial of genetically modified cancer-fighting immune cells shows great promise

Artist’s impression of T-cells attacking a cancer cell. royaltystockphoto.com/shutterstock

(Alfredo Carpineti/ IFL Science) — American researchers have concluded the first phase I trial of a novel approach in the fight against cancer. T-cells, a type of immune cell, were genetically modified using the CRISPR-Cas9 technique to attack cancer cells.

The team tested the method on three patients in their 60s with advanced cancer, whose t-cells were still actively fighting the cancer up to nine months after the first injection.

Cancer is an umbrella term for a large group of diseases where our own cells multiply uncontrollably. Given that they are made of the same stuff as our own bodies, the immune system doesn’t recognize cancer cells as dangerous and thus doesn’t attack them.

Efforts in the last decade have focused on finding ways to teach the immune system how to recognize and attack cancer cells. In this work, as reported in Science, the team achieved this by removing three genes from T-cells that would otherwise prevent them from attacking the cancer. The team then used a virus to arm these T-cells to attack a protein typically found on cancer cells. (…)

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