Categories: News

Researchers Claim to Have Cured Two Babies of Leukaemia

A team of doctors in the UK claim to have cured two babies of leukaemia by treating them with genetically engineered donor cells. The experiments, which involved engineering T cells, a key constituent of the human immune system, took place at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. The pair of children – aged 11 and 16 months old – were infused with the modified cells after previous treatments had failed to be effective in fighting the cancer in their blood. Soon after the treatment, the leukaemia in both infants went into remission, as revealed in a paper published in Science Translational Medicine this week.

After one of the two successful treatments – 16-month-old Layla had her cancer reversed last year – Great Ormond Street’s Dr Paul Veys called the results “almost like a miracle.”

“This is the first time human cells, engineered in this particular way, have been given back to a patient and that was a big step for us,” Prof Waseem Qasim, lead author of the Study, told the BBC last year. “The technology is moving very fast, the ability to target very specific regions of the genome have suddenly become much more efficient and we think that this technology will be the next phase of treatments.

“The technology itself has got enormous potential to correct other conditions where cells are engineered and given back to patients or to provide new properties to cells that allow them to be used in a way we can only imagine at the moment,” Qasim added.

Some researchers, though, are doubting the results of the experiments, claiming that they could be invalidated by the use of other cancer treatments alongside cell engineering. “There is a hint of efficacy but no proof,” Stephan Grupp, Director of Cancer Immunotherapy at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told MIT Technology Review. “It would be great if it works, but that just hasn’t been shown yet.”

Grupp works with Novartis, a company that has spent tens of millions of dollars developing its own cancer treatments involving engineered cells, which would be a direct rival to the technique developed by Great Ormond Street researchers.

Ashley Allen

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