Personalised, gene-edited immune cells have been used to treat cancer in humans for the first time. 

Researchers in the US have used CRISPR gene editing to change the immune cells of cancer patients so that they target their individual cancer mutations. 

It is the first time that immune cells engineered in this way have been trialled in people. 

Harnessing the power of the human immune system is an attractive goal for cancer treatment. Receptors on the surface of T cells (a key part of the immune system involved in the identification of and response to specific antigens) can detect cancer cells because of single mutations in the cancer genome that change cell-surface proteins. 

Isolating such cancer-detecting T cell receptors and using them to generate therapeutic T cells could provide a new way to treat therapy-resistant cancers.

Researchers in the US have developed an approach that uses the CRISPR–Cas9 genome editing system to insert cancer-specific T cell receptors into the T cells of patients with cancer, thereby producing personalised anti-cancer immune cells. 

In a phase 1 clinical trial, 16 patients with metastatic solid tumours (mostly colorectal cancer) that were resistant to standard therapies were treated with gene-engineered T cells expressing personalised T cell receptors targeting their individual cancer mutations. 

The treatment resulted in stabilisation of disease in 5 of the 16 patients tested, while the other 11 experienced disease progression. 

Just two patients displayed adverse responses attributed to the T cell therapy, whereas all patients experienced expected adverse effects related to an accompanying chemotherapy treatment.

The full report is accessible here.