Swift Gene-Editing Method May Revolutionize Treatments for Cancer and Infectious Diseases

Scientists report that they have discovered a way to tweak genes in the body’s immune cells by using electrical fields.

Comments: 53

  1. Why is there no consideration given to moral and ethical questions regarding gene manipulation? This whole field is expanding seemingly without conscience, which will certainly lead to eugenics and the emergence of the wealthy as a super-race. Life requires disease, suffering and death, it is part of the bargain. Just how far can we go to change that and still be human?

  2. As the science progresses, ethical, legal, and sociocultural considerations are being weighed in lock-step. The National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine (our nation’s preeminent organization for thought leadership and careful consideration of significant issues in biomedicine and other scientific disciplines), has convened a multi-year, multinational initiative to address numerous issues including ethics, cost, equitable access, etc.). Find their report and related resources at this URL.


  3. Eugenics was a horrible unscientific mistake that used harming people as its method of implementation. What is coming is using scientific advances to help people. As we understand more and learn which gene alleles encode desired traits such as strong immune systems, better memory, certain talents, parents will be able to use IVF and gene screening to have healthier, smarter, more talented kids. Just screening, using improved understanding of genetics to select for the parents' best candidate embryos will work, even without modifying genes.

  4. 5% of all NIH research dollars are ddicated to Ethics evaluation of every project. Also, do you know what an IRB is? Institutional Review Board, which every research instituion has to review, sign off and monitor every research study. Since he 1980s. Your concerns are real, approriate, and beinng addressed every day.

  5. Perhaps one day we will indeed beat father time, or at the very least, weaken him enough to live for a couple of centuries. We are more than half way there.

    I think there needs to be strict safeguards in place so that the ''science'' does not get out of hand, or into the wrongs hands. As long as it does get into religious hands, which are stifling.

    Mortality is looking in the mirror ...

  6. Treatment of cancer is a complex problem with no single treatment curative for all cases. There is no broad-spectrum anti-cancer 'penicillin'. This genetic tweaking could be a positive development if it proves effective, but remember: the immune system can kill if it goes rogue.

  7. I'm not sure why this article mentions the use of electric fields to deliver the gene editing material as if this is a major and novel part of the story. Scientists have been using this technique for decades now to deliver all sorts of material in to cells, including immune cells. The electric fields are really not the interesting part of the story.

  8. Seriously ... electroporation has been around for decades, and CRISPR for at least ten. Would have thought this article would be more appropriate for Nature Biotechnology.

  9. I agree with Steve. What the heck is being described? A super-Vague summary at best. This is not new stuff and frankly the NYT is doing a disservice to science by selectively highlighting only one solution by a single doctor versus thousands of alternatives that are ongoing.

  10. This is our best hope for a humane cure to cancer and other genetic diseases. The current treatments for cancer are barbaric and insufficiently effective.

  11. 1st thought: Great news for autoimmune sufferers, and remembering a family member who suffered terribly with lupus before dying.
    2nd thought: Who's going to be able to afford these sophisticated courses of treatment? Only those who are already wealthy.

  12. Thank you for reporting this exciting development. Given the horrifying news these days, I'm grateful for news about constructive and beneficia progressl. I'm especially glad trump has not issued an executive order banning medical researchfor on ground of national security.

  13. As a very recent cancer survivor, this is certainly encouraging on a personal level! Hopefully this method/process/technique will be fully researched, properly vetted, and - if all is right - widely effective. Also, hopefully this will be totally ignored by the seeming legions of ignoramuses who continue to insist that factual science and rigorously tested and reviewed scientific discoveries are fake news.

  14. I hope this might hold hope for ending Type 1 diabetics too.

  15. Let’s give the recognition due to this wonderful man: “It required a herculean effort by a graduate student, Theo Roth, to finally figure out the right molecular mixture of genes, gene-editing tools and electrical fields to modify T-cells without a virus.

    “He tested thousands of conditions,” Dr. Marson said.”

    We can all be inspired by those few among us who are not discouraged by repeated failures, who learn from failure, who never give up on a promising idea, and who dare to think big! We need more big thinkers in our country! Thank you Mr. Roth for your hard work on this very difficult problem! I salute you!

  16. The old saying : You learn from your mistakes, not from those instances when everything goes right. True in every field, from genetics to mathematics.

  17. Great News but... Wait until all the, "You're playing with God!" people start chiming in..

  18. If this approach turns out to be too expensive for Americans, we can look to other countries to gather their public resources to help their citizens.
    And this new approach is cheaper than current approaches, so the point about insurance companies' supporting it is a good one.

  19. (Something is wrong with the commenting mechanism! This is the reply I intended for "Aaron"...)
    Playing with God is why God created us. That is what "Replenish the Earth, and subdue it" means.

  20. Bravo, Dr Roth. If you’re not called Dr you will be soon.

  21. Long live the scientists!

  22. As a scientist, I have always learned from working with graduate students. They are the ones with the most to gain and have the fewest preconceptions and dogma to work against. Congratulations Mr. Roth!

  23. actually this process will be much cheaper than immunotherapy which can take a year of trial and error to get the right combination, if it is ever gotten for a particular patient.

    AS for normal treatments for cancer, HIV etc. They are grossly expensive and can span years if not decades of extreme costs.

    If proven, Insurance companies will be all over this treatment to reduce their outlays for immune disease costs.

    so I doubt your complaint will come true.

  24. Marvelous work being done. It will be truly wonderful, if we can get to a place where children and adults with cancer can be so cured. Of course, since humans do not live forever, it also makes me wonder what final event will come along to be the demise of more folks, if cancer is truly curable.

  25. As we cheer every scientific and medical breakthrough, it should be noted that prevention receives far less attention in the media and in the funding practices of governmental and private agencies. This discrepancy deserves far more attention than it is likely to get.

  26. As someone with a form of bone cancer that will quite likely kill me in a couple of years if not sooner, all I can see in this article are weasel words and phrases like "may," "but," "some success," and "could be available." Using gene editing to cure cancer is the flying car of our time. It's always on the horizon but it never actually gets here. The skeptic in me wonders if armies of people who get rich from the status quo aren't hard at work to slow the progress of these developments.

  27. your post is exactly what those who worry about the ethics of gene splicing actually worry about.

    you listed some "nifty" choices that might come true, but with the skill and knowledge to screen genes for smarter people you also gain the ability to screen for gender or sexual orientation or disability in Utero and many people, particularly the hyper religious and or racists will elect to try and create their vision of the "perfect" baby.

  28. I believe that Type 1 diabetes is cause by the death of the islets of Langerhans. It's not the same. If the patient no longer has the cell how does one go about modifying it? What will the changes attach to?

    Currently there is a study underway to transplant the living isles of Langerhans into the patient. I'm told it is showing success! This means that it may be possible for my friend's 19 year old daughter to have a successful transplant of my 68 year old islets of Langerhans and then lead a life that requires much less regulation, perhaps even none, for life.

    At 68, nearly 69, My blood sugar is running less than 95, sometimes below 80, before meals. But it seldom rises above 105. Since my hubby was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes I take my BS right after he does. So far16 months after his diagnosis, my sugar stays within 95-105 range. Why is this good news?

    My husband is 15 years younger than me. If my islets are that good (I follow no diet), then perhaps my islets can save his life? Perhaps, the daughter of my Muslim friend's 17 year-old daughter who is on the cusp of losing her left foot?

    Whatever. I would be willing to donate or donate-> exchange to offer someone that opportunity. Of course I would love for it to be my husband or my friend's daughter. I'm only wondering if those chances in the DNA are inheritable? If yes, then the good dna in my body could actually benefit an untold number of people. Yeah! I'll sign up for that!

  29. If this is proven there will be on very rich and very famous grad student/New PhD holder getting a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

  30. This is exciting and lets hope it works. But here is my problem with it. Every few years the NYTimes tells us about a cancer breakthrough that may very well cure a large fraction of all types of cancers. So far (with the exception of some dangerous but miraculous immunotherapy that is effective against about 20% of some types of cancer) the Times has been wrong. It is not their fault, its the scientists' fault - but still. Drugs to fight blood vessel formation - a la Folkman - was front page news - and was wrong. Sequencing cancer genomes to identify driver genes and target them - a la Collins - was wrong. Precision medicine - Obama - that we now learn will take another 20-30- years - if it works may never work on most cancers. Now this. Its great to know new things are coming along. Hope is good. But given so many claims that have failed, it is like crying wolf. Isn't it important to reflect on how wrong scientists (and thus the NYTimes) have been in most of these claims? And the negative impact of these miscalculations? Which warp research efforts, warp the public's perception of science. and have made even scientists cynical about the cancer industrial complex.

  31. failures bring success.

  32. These are the real heros. Not entertainers or politicians.

  33. No mention of the executive director of Innovative Genomics Institute—UC Berkeley's Dr. Jennifer Doudna.

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna, with collaborator Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, did the fundamental work, published 2012, demonstrating the "genetic editing scissors" known as CRISPR-Cas9 that was used in this latest breakthrough from Innovative Genomics Institute and UC Berkeley/UCSF.

    Dr. Doudna's discovery—the ability to precisely edit DNA—is one of the great discoveries in the history of biology. Future Nobel Prize, of course.

    But who's waiting for that. From a dastardly Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria that has killed millions, she has lifted up to the world "scissors to precisely edit DNA"—to save and better the lives of millions.

  34. The new point of this article was to demonstrate that they could electroporate the DNA into cells--the electric field element mentioned by Ms. Kolata. One of the biggest problems in "fixing" the genome isn't necessarily how to edit the genome but how to get anything INSIDE the cell safely before returning said cell into an animal/patient. This has been a major obstacle that has been studied for years. In the past scientists have used liposomes, modified viruses (again, mentioned by Ms. Kolata), etc. Electroporating the the immune cells and then having these cells remain viable and able to transmit the modified DNA is the point. Electroporation is relatively simple and is used in the lab but it hasn't been shown to work at this level as applicable to the patient. It means that since the immune cells are amenable to electroporation, a major roadblock for treating these immune cell-related diseases such as cancer and HIV has been removed. Kudos to the authors!

  35. since you seem happy with the suffering being part of "the bargain" you can just refuse treatment and enjoy the self-righteous pain disease will inflict on you.

    I suggest starting with gangrene followed by Rheumatoid Arthritis to get you warmed up for cancer.

  36. 1. This is a perfect example and opportunity to remind ourselves why the anti science crowd must loose their push for ignorance. I also could not help but notice the long list of foreign surnames in the list of authors. It is a perfect example to demonstrate that brains bear no flags.

    2. The purpose of medical research, as clearly demonstrated here, is to alleviate human suffering and to improve human health so that we can live longer and more productive lives.

    3. It is time that scientists receive the adulation and recognition that they deserve. They are the real heroes and superstars of our society. They are National Treasure to be nurtured.

  37. this will be great news if:

    1. it's not yet another cure that will be 10 or more years down the road for approval.

    2. the treatment is affordable and available to everyone.

  38. By the time the Pharmabros get done with it, it will only be for the wealthy and even then will cost much of their fortune.

  39. Methinks it smacks of Frankenstein ...

  40. If treating cancer with electric fields seems novel. The idea of using electric fields is highlighted in a TedTalks video about 5-6 years ago. The idea was developed in Israel.
    Bill Doyle spoke at a TedTalks.


  41. How is this different from the way Crispr has been used for the last few years? This article seems to be announcing a replacement for Crispr then suddenly drops in a line saying Crispr is in fact part of the new process.

    I'm going to guess Crispr was used with virus carried genes before, but the article seems to say that, no, virus carried genes weren't introduced at any specific spot, such as at a Crispr cut.

    Please explain how Crispr was used before and how this new way is different. This article gives us terrific news, but gets it all a bit garbled in its excitement.

  42. The begining of a new era? Seems so...how exciting!!

  43. I have a strong feeling that if science denying Trump and his equally ignorant cronies discovered they had cancer or any potentially infectious disease, they would sooner opt in for scientific medical advancements in new cures than not,

  44. If this works it's a huge advance. Strangely I don't see any mention of this paper in biotech blogs??? I mean if this method really works and if it's off-target effects are indeed minimal then it will decimate the market caps of several big biotechs.

  45. These days it truly seems scientists are the most virtuous among us.

  46. Healing with electric fields reminds me of those electric healing devices from the early 1900s. Well done.

  47. Another dangerous gene editing article about all "opportunities' All of which are pie in the sky. Not even one proven or properly tested.
    This us much like the GMO seed and food articles which claim all sorts of things - but 96% of all actual applications are to allow the use of toxic herbicides. (Thanks Monsanto / Bayer)
    Even if editing is precise - and much is not as precise as claimed the actual affect of editing is not understood - many different effects can result not just the desired one.

  48. Folks are talking like one person or even one group makes these things possible, but in CRISPER/Cas9 tricks, as most advances, it has been hundreds of labs and perhaps thousands of people building knowledge. It takes way more than a village. I do not mean to detract from any new tricks though.
    For the skeptics:
    - TCGA sequencing of tumor genomes was not a waste. I use it daily in research. We don't want to rediscover the wheel a thousand times.
    - Look up CAR T-cells. You genetically modify your own killer T-cells to kill the tumor. Nearly magic. Expensive now, but we can work on cost.
    - Look up checkpoint inhibitors. It took about 6 years between understanding what the PD1 and PDL1 genes are about and drugs to inhibit them. It's like a miracle for some patients. First successes were cures of stage 4 melanomas, previously a death sentence. There are many current clinical trials in other cancers.
    Research progress is much faster than when I was young and it took us a year just to clone a new gene. I can know more about it in 5 minutes today. We have astonishing gear now. These are the days I've been hoping for my whole life. Let's kill some tumors.

  49. Wouldn't it be wonderful for a cancer cure to be a process and not a drug? Oh, but I suppose big Pharm would find a way wriggle in there anyway. Or if not, fund studies to discredit.

  50. The pace of innovation and discovery in the medical fields is truly amazing. I suspect 20 years from now people will look back on cancer the same way people in the 1950s looked at diseases that were cured by antibiotics.

  51. As a patient who has both Lupus and Merkel Cell Carcinoma it will be interesting to see if/what comes of this. Patients such as myself won't be helped yet maybe someday there will be a light at the end of the tunnel for others.

    BTW I am a former research scientist who specialized in cell biology and immunology. When I was working on my MS the structure and purification of DNA was one of those new fangled things.

  52. Thank you for your contribution to science and best wishes on your personal struggles with health challenges.

  53. This research was the product of a collaborative effort between UCSF and UC Berkeley. The University of California is one of the crown jewels of higher eduction in the entire world.

    UC started with a single campus in Berkeley in the 1860's and now has ten campuses with collective annual enrollment exceeding one quarter of a million students. Its faculty have received 62 Nobel Prizes. It costs the state taxpayers about $3 billion a year but has estimated annual economic impact exceeding $50 billion per year. (Unfortunately, too much of its budget is now provided by student tuition payments.)

    No governmental system, nor frankly any human enterprise, is above reproach, but the University of California is eminently worthwhile. There's no plateau to human knowledge, and those countries and societies at the forefront of education and research will continue to lead in innovation, effectiveness, and resulting economic strength.

    In the United States, we're blessed to have the best higher education system in the world. But it costs too much to attend and attendance is too often skewed by factors of inherited economic status and our horrendously unequal primary and secondary school systems.

    Scientific advances including better gene editing tools and potentially groundbreaking new cancer treatments aren't free. We need to relentlessly value education and invest sufficiently to optimize every person's capability.