A little girl in the US has been cured using a disabled form of the HIV virus to reprogram her immune system to kill cancer cells.
Emily Whitehead had been fighting leukaemia for two years but relapsed this year and her parents had 48 hours to decide whether to put her forward for treatment in a clinical trial. The therapy known as CTL019 uses a disabled form of HIV to carry cancer fighting genes into her T-cells, which fight disease, and would hopefully kill the cancer cells. With Emily on the cusp of suffering from organ failure, her parents decided to try the radical option and despite an initial bad reaction when the re-engineered cells were injected back into her, she is alive and well today.
Three weeks after the treatment Emily was in remission and she was checked again at three and six months but so far so good. Researchers from the team who treated Emily at University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia presented their findings at an annual haematology meeting and found nine out of twelve responded to the treatment. Their aim is to treat another twelve over the next year.