This Could Be Humanity’s First Big Victory Over Cancer

February 20, 2017

Cancer is a disease that constantly cheats the human body’s defense systems and can strike when least expected. Science has not yet found a way to defeat this terrible illness once and for all, but diligent efforts are being taken in this direction. The latest research in the field of genetic engineering looks especially promising, considering that it’s already saved the lives of two patients.

The staff of LikeAble is overjoyed by the news of this important breakthrough!

In January 2017, a group of European scientists published an article in Science Translational Medicine magazine about using genetically modified white blood cells to treat cancer.

The scientists propose to extract human immune cells, modify them, and place them in the body of a patient so they’d “attack” the cancer cells. There had already been two cases where the method proved to be a success.

© Zinco79/

The first patient to undergo this treatment was little Leyla Richards from the UK. When she was 3 months old, the girl was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a disease in which immature lymphoid cells are ejected into the bloodstream, causing it to gradually cease performing its functions in the body. Leyla’s chances of survival were practically nonexistent since conventional treatments like chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation brought no results.

With the consent of the girl’s parents, the specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, applied an experimental method which had previously been tested only on mice. “We wanted to save our daughter at all costs, so we told the doctors to go ahead,” says Leyla’s mother.

As it turned out, the risk was justified: following a month-long treatment program with modified cells, Leyla went into remission which still lasts after a year and a half.

© Rey Tang/ REX/ Shutterstock

The second person to be treated using genetic engineering was another little girl with a similar diagnosis. As with Leyla Richards, she did not respond to traditional methods of fighting leukemia.

Once again, the novel approach proved successful. The girl has been in remission for a year now.

It is worth noting that genetic engineering technologies had been used in cancer treatment before. However, on all previous occasions, the white blood cells were extracted from patients undergoing the treatment. Whereas in the above-mentioned cases they were harvested from healthy people. Taking cellular material from young patients could damage their weakened immune system even further.

According to experts, the fact that genetically modified cells have yielded such impressive results suggests that there may be universal solutions to suit different patients regardless of their age and the state of their immune system. Scientists emphasize that a great deal more work is required to determine the method’s effectiveness. But, even at this stage, the findings look promising.

Preview photo credit Curmudgeon Films
Based on materials from The New Scientist, The Mirror, I fucking love science