Nearly two years old, a girl is now in leukemia remission thanks to a breakthrough experimental treatment targeting cancer.
Layla Richards’ family found that their baby girl had leukemia when she was only 14 weeks old. Since then, all treatments failed. Doctors with the Great Ormond Street Hospital, London recommended that Layla finally receives palliative treatment a little after her one year birthday. Her family however insisted that something else must be done.
As such, the hospital offered the girl and her family the possibility to try an experimental treatment which had only been tested with mice. T-cells are at the heart of the treatment. Acting as efficient fighters against infections in the body, T-cells prop the immune system. In order to create the treatment, they must be retained from the person in cause, engineered and reintroduced in the body to attack cancer cells.
With Layla, retaining T-cells from her own body was a difficult task, the girl lacking sufficient numbers in her body. Thus, Doctor Waseem Qasim who is a professor of cell and gene therapy with the University College of London’s Institute of Child Health took the experimental treatment on a different path. With the medical team ready, the specific treatment for Layla was designed.
T-cells were retained from a different donor and enriched with genetic material to protect against a possible rejection from the girl’s body.
Now, nearly two years old a girl is in leukemia remission thanks to the edited T-cells. The medical team cut the genes from the donor T-cells and added synthetic genetic material instead. This would enrich the cells efficiency in fighting cancer cells.
The experimental treatment had only been tested with mice before. Under laboratory conditions, the approach looked highly successful. However, under real life conditions, it could have proved the opposite with a severe immune reaction threatening the success of the operation.
Transplanted into Layla’s body, the T-cells worked a miracle. Layla went into remission. In order for her immune system to be propped she underwent a second bone marrow transplant. It is a breakthrough in terms of cancer therapies.
However, the findings must be replicated in larger trials before the treatment is used again. Doctor Qasim urged caution while acknowledging the landmark the medical team has established with the use of gene engineering technology.
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