Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have developed a revolutionary technique that edits a person’s DNA to battle cancer. This development is the reason 10-year-old Emily Whitehead and many other kids like here are alive today.
Emily was diagnosed with an acute lymphoblastic leukemia three years ago. Her cancer was growing out of control and none of the standard therapies were working.
Eventually, it really looked like Emily wouldn’t survive to see another day.
The desperation led her parents to be willing to try an experimental therapy that had never been tried in children. However, the therapy had shown promise in a few adults.
Emily’s parents were never told about this trial.
They happened upon it while searching on their own and getting a second opinion.
The treatment is called CAR T-cell therapy. The idea behind the treatment is to collect a person’s immune cells and modify them so that they would be able to spot the cancer, latch on, and kill it.
The immune cells are modified by being injected with a virus. The virus used is a deactivated form of HIV. It can’t hurt the patient, but it can carry new genetic material into the cells it infects.
Leukemia cells have something that acts like a piece of Velcro. However, the T-cell does not have a piece of the Velcro so it is unable to stick to the leukemia cells. \researchers are genetically changing that immune cell to put in a piece of “Velcro” on the outside surface so now when it encounters the leukemia cell, they can stick together.
Three years later, Emily’s parents still can’t believe how lucky they were to try this experimental therapy.
Just a decade ago, no one could have imagined this.
People may have even considered this type of therapy to be science fiction.
Emily’s parents now run a foundation, dedicated to raising funds and providing support to pediatric cancer patients.