A little girl in England is in remission from cancer after a groundbreaking new treatment that had never before been tested on humans.
Layla Richards was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and wasn’t expected to live for very long. She had endured chemo, a bone marrow transplant, and even a new type of biotech drug, but nothing had worked.
Her parents were told to start making arrangements so that Layla could live out the rest of her days comfortably, but her parents wanted to do more — and luckily, there was one more never-before-explored option: genome editing.
Great Ormond Street Hospital in London — the hospital where Layla was being treated — was set to begin clinical trials on a new type of immunotherapy that targeted T-cells (cells that fight off infection in the body). The hospital was working with Cellectis, a French biotechnolgy company, and they were focusing on “editing” donor T-cells instead of a patient’s T-cells. This is significant because it’s a one-size-fits-all approach instead of having to cater to a patient’s specific DNA — plus it saves time and money because a patient’s T-cells don’t have to be shipped back and forth between manufacturer and hospital.
The problem with donor cells that don’t match a patient’s DNA is that the body can reject new cells and the new cells can attack their host. Cellectis found a new way around that problem. Their team took donated T-cells (since little Layla didn’t have enough of her own) and essentially retrained and edited the cells to target cancer cells by removing and adding specific DNA. They didn’t need to find donor cells that matched Layla’s because they were able to edit the donor genetics. In addition, they removed genes that would make the T-cells attack Layla’s normal cells, and they also inactivated another gene so that the T-cells could survive in Layla’s body.
Layla has now been in remission for a few months, and underwent a second bone marrow transplant to help boost her immune system even more. Even though it’s too early to tell if she’s cured for good, these results are incredibly promising, and more research on donor T-cells is being done.
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