While the U.S. is just gearing up to the idea of CRISPRing its first humans, China seems to be benefiting from the “move fast and break things” — or cut them with the CRISPR scissors — motto.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, China has already gene-edited 86 people using CRISPR-Cas9 since 2015. Unhindered by rules and regulations like the ones we have in America to prevent science experiments gone wrong, Hangzhou doctor Wu Shixiu has been using the technique on cancer patients.
In fact, it only took a half hour one afternoon, according to the Journal, for hospital administrators to sign off on Dr. Wu’s plans.
It’s not clear if these experiments worked — though some preliminary reports suggest some of the various trials have had some success. However, this is not the first time China’s used CRISPR on humans — often with disastrous results. Chinese scientists tried unsuccessfully to genetically modify human embryos using CRISPR in 2016 but found at least two-thirds to have genetic mutations, and only a fraction of the 28 surviving embryos (out of 86 total tested) contained the replacement genetic material.
At least nine other CRISPR trials have been conducted on humans in China, according to listings in the U.S. National Library of Medicine database. The Journal found at least two other trials had been conducted on humans in China using the technique since 2015.
While some worry this gives China the edge in pioneering CRISPR medical techniques, others urge caution and patience with such a new technology. Both the U.S. and Europe, where the technique was first jointly discovered by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, have implemented conservative regulatory measures and have yet to start human trials.
“It is hard to know what the ideal is between moving quickly and making sure patients are safe,” Dr. Carl June, the lead scientist for the CRISPR research team at the University of Pennsylvania, where the first human trials are slated to take place once researchers there can get through several regulatory hurdles, told the Journal.