Scientists at the Casey Eye Institute, in Portland, Ore., have have injected a harmless virus containing CRISPR gene-editing instructions inside the retinal cells of a patient with a rare form of genetic blindness.
For the first time, scientists have used the gene-editing technique CRISPR to try to edit a gene while the DNA is still inside a person's body.
The groundbreaking procedure involved injecting the microscopic gene-editing tool into the eye of a patient blinded by a rare genetic disorder, in hopes of enabling the volunteer to see. They hope to know within weeks whether the approach is working and, if so, to know within two or three months how much vision will be restored.
"We're really excited about this," Dr. Eric Pierce, a professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, who is leading a study that the procedure launched, tells NPR.
"We're helping open, potentially, an era of gene-editing for therapeutic use that could have impact in many aspects of medicine," Pierce says.
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The CRISPR gene-editing technique has been revolutionizing scientific research by making it much easier to rewrite the genetic code. It's also raising high hopes of curing many diseases.
Before this step, doctors had only used CRISPR to try to treat a small number of patients who have cancer, or the rare blood disorders sickle cell anemia or beta-thalassemia. While some of the initial results have been promising, it's still too soon to know whether the strategy is working.
In those other cases, doctors removed cells from patients' bodies, edited genes in the cells with CRISPR in the lab and then infused the modified cells back into the volunteers' bodies to either attack their cancer or produce a protein their bodies are missing.