Scientists have, for the first time, used CRISPR technology to insert genes that allow immune cells to attack cancer cells, potentially leaving normal cells unharmed and increasing the effectiveness of immunotherapy.
The CRISPR gene editing technique has been previously used in humans to remove specific genes to allow the immune system to be more activated against cancer.
The research, published in the journal Nature, used CRISPR to not only take out specific genes, but also to insert new ones in immune cells efficiently redirecting them to recognise mutations in the patient's own cancer cells.
When infused back to patients, these CRISPR engineered immune cells preferentially traffic to the cancer and become the most represented immune cells there, the researchers said.
The human immune system has specific receptors on immune cells that can specifically recognise cancer cells and differentiate them from normal cells.
These are different for every patient, so finding an efficient way to isolate them and insert them back into immune cells to generate a personalised cell therapy to treat cancer is key to making the approach feasible on a large scale.
The researchers found an efficient way to isolate these immune receptors from patient's own blood.
After isolation, the immune receptors are used to redirect immune cells to recognise cancer using CRISPR gene editing.
"This is a leap forward in developing a personalised treatment for cancer, where the isolation of immune receptors that specifically recognise mutations in the patient's own cancer are used to treat the cancer," said Antoni Ribas from the University of California, U.S..
"The generation of a personalised cell treatment for cancer would not have been feasible without the newly developed ability to use the CRISPR technique to replace the immune receptors in clinical-grade cell preparations in a single step," said Ribas, corresponding author of the research paper.
The researchers report treating 16 patients with a variety of solid cancers including colon, breast and lung cancers.