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Gene editing can help a baby battle cancer

Update Date: Nov 09, 2015 10:25 AM EST

Doctors are determined in finding ways to battle maladies like cancer. They are using molecular scalpels to slice genes.

Gene editing has helped a one year old girl's leukemia to turn into remission. Doctors at the e Great Ormond Street Hospital in London announced this on November 5, 2015 at a news briefing. Baby Layla's medical team was treated with immune cells altered by one type of the molecular surgical instruments called TALENs. It is the first time for TALENs to be used to treat a person.

Gene editing has become popular in research and clinical trials. Scientists can select the scalpel to be used such as finger nucleases, TALENs and CRISPR/Cas9. The scalpels cut DNA at specific locations.

Baby Layla is not the first person to get a molecular surgery. Five years ago, Sangamo BioSciences already started using zinc finger nucleases to remove a protein from human immune cells that HIV uses as a door to enter the cells. More than 80 people have already gotten this treatment according to Edward Lanphier, president and chief executive officer of Sangamo BioSciences.

Layla had an acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her bone marrow made too many immature immune cells called B cells. Layla's B cells were studded with a protein known as CD19. To treat her cancer, doctors tried an experimental treatment using CAR T cells engineered to carry an antibody that tracks and kills any cell that makes CD19.

A month after Layla gotten her treatment, Layla's doctors could not find any sign of leukemia. The finding indicates that the engineered T cells helped kill the leukemia.

As of this day, Layla is free of Leukemia but her doctors still doesn't know if it is already gone for good. We will be more confident as time goes on," Qasim says. He's waiting until Layla has been cancer-free for at least 12 months until he'll consider the therapy "curative." Waseem Qasim said, a member of Layla's medical team.

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