As gene-editing becomes a more feasible part of healthcare across the planet, a new technique is being trialled for the first time in China.
This can be seen as indicative of the increasingly prominent role which China is playing on the world stage, as the world’s most populous nation becomes a major player in world affairs.
The groundbreaking gene-editing technique will be tested on humans for the first time, with Chinese oncologists trialling the innovation on lung cancer patients.
It is hoped that the new technique will enable a larger proportion of lung cancer sufferers to make a full recovery from the debilitating condition.
The team involved in the study hails from Sichuan University’s West China hospital in Chengdu, China, and intends to begin tests in August, according to the scientific journal Nature.
Lung cancer is a particularly big killer in China, with a two-pronged assault on public health having a massive impact.
Firstly, due to the rapid industrialisation of the Chinese nation, the levels of air pollution in some regions of the country are extremely dangerous.
Researchers estimate China endured 2.8 million cancer deaths during 2015 and 4.3 million new cancer cases, with lung cancer the most common of all.
“Cancer incidence and mortality have been increasing in China, making cancer the leading cause of death since 2010 and a major public health problem in the country,” researchers noted.
Secondly, China is the world’s largest consumer of tobacco, with 350 million people in China smoking regularly, and the country producing nearly half of all the world’s tobacco products.
It is this climate which has caused scientists and clinicians in China to seek new and innovative ways to treat lung cancer in particular.
Known as Crispr, the technique entails finding, removing and replacing specific parts of the DNA of individuals.
Those selected for the trial will already have received chemotherapy and radiotherapy, with these proving ineffective.
The Crispr technique adds a new genetic sequence, which is designed to help the patient’s immune system destroy the cancer.
Naturally this is a very technical undertaking, and the effectiveness of the approach and ultimate results are very much cloudy at the current time.
There are also moral concerns about gene-editing, despite the fact that Crispr could see the creation of pest-resistant crops and new cures for serious diseases such a signal-cell anaemia.
Supporters of gene-editing suggest that it differs significantly from genetic modification by not being hereditary.
Naturally everyone involved in the study will have volunteered, and also it must be said that their chances of survival otherwise are basically zero.
Healthcare campaigners and researchers in the UK will be observing the Chinese experiment particularly closely, as the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority in Britain approved an application from the Francis Crick Institute to use gene-editing on embryos earlier this year.
This research has yet to receive ethical approval, as the debate over gene-editing continues.