The growing technique of using immune cells is being combined with genetic engineering to test a new type of cancer therapy, according to Stat News. A federal panel has approved the use of CRISPR, a powerful genetic engineering tool, to create designer immune cells to attack three types of cancer. The experiment, proposed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, still needs the approval of the medical centers where the trials will take place, as well as the Food and Drug Administration. Once the study gets those approvals, the genetic engineering technique will be used in human trials to attack multiple myeloma, melanoma, and sarcoma. The study will be financed by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, a creation of high-tech tycoon Sean Parker.
Ordinarily, immune cells ignore cancer tumors, not recognizing them as foreign invaders. The researchers propose removing T cells from the cancer patients, using CRISPR to modify them, and then reintroducing them into the bodies of the test subjects where they will, hopefully, kill the cancers. The first trial, with 15 patients, will prove the safety of the new therapy.
Immunotherapy, while holding great promise for providing effective treatment for cancer, has so far had mixed results in actual trials. The University of Pennsylvania researchers hope that genetic engineering capabilities provided by CRISPR will give the ability to create targeted immune cells that will seek out and destroy specific cancers that have traditionally not responded very well to conventional chemotherapy.
The trial, when it is approved, will be conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston, the University of California in San Francisco, and the University of Pennsylvania.
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