There are around fifty-four thousand new cases of leukemia each year in the United States and about twenty-four thousand deaths due to the disease. It makes up about three percent of all new cancer cases. For anyone who’s diagnosed with the disease, the prospects are grim. But for two girls, their chances have been dramatically improved with the help of an amazing new cancer treatment (1).
Advanced Cancer Treatment: Using Gene Therapy
Thanks to the cancer treatment known as “gene therapy,” two girls who otherwise had untreatable forms of leukemia have been given a second chance. A European team of researchers reports that the two girls have remained cancer-free 18 and 12 months respectively, after having been given the treatment, which involved genetically engineering white blood cells to give them the ability to target cancerous cells effectively (3).
Teams at Ormond Street Hospital in London and Collectis, a French Biotech firm stipulate that molecular remissions were achieved within 28 days in both infants, an incredibly short period of time. To present, both have stopped showing signs of the acute lymphocytic leukemia they were once overcome with (3).
It was a possibility that the two girls’ immune systems could have reacted negatively to and destroyed the ‘alien’ white blood cells injected into their bodies, this wasn’t the case, at least initially. The team noted that the first young patient did have a bad immune reaction to the cancer treatment 2 months after it took place. But after a round of steroids, and some bone marrow transplantation, she’s now doing well (3).
This method was tested on these babies because at that age children do not have many white blood cells as it is. Taking any away from them could weaken their immune system to a dangerous point. The effectiveness of this transference suggests that gene therapy could be a truly universal one – one that works on all donors regardless of their age or relative immune system strength. There remains lots of work to be done to prove that this form of treatment is effective in older children or adults, but this trial proves that it can be incredibly successful (3).
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Leukemia is a group of different cancers of the blood cells. Abnormal cells are typically produced in the bone marrow, leading to higher than normal white blood cell levels. Healthy cells follow the body’s “code of conduct” when it comes to how they multiply, grow, and die — the abnormal or cancerous cells in leukemia do not function in the same way.
Cancerous cells continue to grow and divide, eventually crowding out healthy blood cells. In turn, this buildup of unhealthy white blood cells ends up resulting in a situation where it’s extremely hard for the body to fight off infections, control bleeding, and transport oxygen (1).
What are the Types of Leukemia?
There are four main types of leukemia which are grouped based on the rate at which they progress (acute or chronic) and where cancer develops (2):
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) involves the rapid growth of myeloid cells in the blood and bone marrow. The body produces immature white blood cells that aren’t able to fight infection.
- Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a slowly progressing form of leukemia. It begins in the bone marrow, then eventually spreads to the blood. It can also develop into an acute form.
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of leukemia in children, but it also affects adults. It is a fast moving form that quickly spreads from the blood to all areas of the body.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a slow-growing cancer of lymphoid cells that usually affect people over fifty-five years of age (1).
Cancer is no doubt still a problem we have to deal with as a society. But the treatments are getting more sophisticated and proficient. As time goes on, we are no doubt going to be seeing more ingenious ways of treating the disease, such as in this case. The days of a cancer diagnosis being a death sentence are closely drawing to a close. With a new cancer treatment like gene therapy, we are opening the door to a new era where we might conquer cancer.
(1) MedicineNet. Leukemia http://www.medicinenet.com/leukemia/page2.htm Accessed: February 3, 2017.
(2) The Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Types of leukemia. http://www.cancercenter.com/leukemia/types/. Accessed: February 7, 2017.
(3) IFL Science. Gene-editing therapy saves lives of two baby girls with leukemia http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/geneediting-therapy-saves-lives-baby-girls-leukemia/ Published: January 26, 2017. Accessed: February 3, 2017.
(4) Youtube. What is leukemia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IB3iJUuxt1c Published: May 6, 2014. Accessed: February 3, 2017.
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