Chinese scientists just used the controversial CRISPR gene editing technique on a fully formed human adult for the first time.
CRISPR are short sections of DNA found in bacteria which help them fight off viruses. The bacteria use a protein called Cas9 like a pair of “scissors” to cut out pieces of the invader’s DNA.
They then incorporate that into their own genomes so they can recognise the enemy in future.
The Chinese team altered cells using the CRISPR gene-splicing technique, then injected them into an adult in the hope they will fight off a type of lung cancer.
It’s early days, but unlike Western nations which urge caution over the appropriate use and safety of the technique, China has shown it’s willing to get moving on gene-editing.
Last year, Chinese researchers announced they had used CRISPR editing to modify human embryos in order to cure a fatal blood disorder known as beta thalassemia.
This latest foray steps on some big toes in Silicon Valley, however. Also in April, Napster co-founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker chipped in $US250 million to set up the Parker Institute for researching and developing cancer immunotherapy treatments.
The group of University of Pennsylvania researchers it funded hoped to be the first to get the CRISPR technology into humans.
In the US, the technique still hasn’t progressed past the trial stage, and is currently just being tested for safety, not effectiveness.
And it’s far from perfected. Several months ago, scientists in Canada admitted attempts to wipe out HIV with the CRISPR gene editor only made it stronger.