Cancer remains a huge killer worldwide, and Leukemia is a type of cancer more common in children than in adults. Leukemia accounts for 30% of all childhood cancer cases, and its prevalence in the younger population are due to DNA changes children undergo as they are growing. Cancer is one of the most researched diseases due to its fatality and current crude methods of treatment, and it looks like recent breakthroughs in gene therapy have just saved the lives of two infant girls.
In the journal Science Translational Medicine, a team of scientists have reported that two girls with previously incurable Leukemia have shown no symptoms for 18 and 12 months respectively due to a novel gene editing technique. This success could be huge in the treatment of childhood Leukemia and give many children with cancer longer, healthier lives.
The French biotechnology firm Cellectis and a team at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital were behind the new treatment that saved the two baby girls’ lives. A form of this technique had been used before, where healthy white blood cells from the patient fighting cancer were taken and transferred in order to fight the disease. This situation is unique, however, as the cells were taken from healthy patients and engineered to fight cancer. The ability to take normal white blood cells and engineer them to fight cancer is monumental in the fight against cancer, and the injected cells were not excessively attacked by the infants’ immune systems.
This form of gene therapy using healthy white blood cells from healthy people is especially important in treating infants, as humans that young do not have a lot of white blood cells as is. In these cases, taking white blood cells from the patient themselves is not feasible. Previously this Leukemia diagnosis would have proved fatal for the two girls, but advances in science are leading us towards a future where these horrible diseases are more easily treatable. Who knows what advances science will make in 10 or 20 years. We may look back on this case as a breakthrough that led to a future with more manageable cancers.