Scientists report that they have discovered a way to tweak genes in the body’s immune cells by using electrical fields.
For the first time, scientists have found a way to efficiently and precisely remove genes from white blood cells of the immune system and to insert beneficial replacements, all in far less time than it normally takes to edit genes.
If the technique can be replicated in other labs, experts said, it may open up profound new possibilities for treating an array of diseases, including cancer, infections like H.I.V. and autoimmune conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
The new work, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, “is a major advance,” said Dr. John Wherry, director of the Institute of Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study.
But because the technique is so new, no patients have yet been treated with white blood cells engineered with it.
“The proof will be when this technology is used to develop a new therapeutic product,” cautioned Dr. Marcela Maus, director of cellular immunotherapy at Massachusetts General Hospital.
That test may not be far away. The researchers have already used the method in the laboratory to alter the abnormal immune cells of children with a rare genetic condition. They plan to return the altered cells to the children in an effort to cure them.
Source: The New York Times