Gene editing is the latest hope for people suffering from “incurable” illnesses, including rare diseases such as hemophilia or other bleeding disorders, and now cancer.
Alyssa, a 13-year-old diagnosed with terminal T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in May 2021, is now on the road to recovery. This is all thanks to gene editing that wasn’t possible six years ago, as reported by BBC.
While kids with this type of leukemia usually respond well to chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants, per Bloomberg, Alyssa wasn’t and she was running out of time, Bloomberg reported.
“Eventually I would have passed away,” Alyssa told BBC.
What happens next with gene editing and cancer treatments?
In May 2022, Alyssa was the first person to start the new treatment and her cancer has been undetectable ever since though medical professionals continue to monitor her, Bloomberg reported.
Base-editing treatment — focused on changing the paired adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T) that make up everyone’s genetic code — can make the body attack the cancerous cells and was created by Waseem Qasim, a specialist in gene and cell therapy at University College London, per BBC.
Bloomberg reported that this type of treatment is still in its testing phases, but 10 more patients are expected to undergo treatment with the next starting as soon as January.
There are lots of improvements that need to be made, like the lack of an immune system that leaves the patient vulnerable to illness in Alyssa’s case, per BBC, but experts say it’s a promising step into the future.
NPR reported a movement to make an “off-the-shelf” remedy called CAR T-cell treatments that would be ready for anybody to use.
“I’m totally excited about this. This would be a game-changer that way, with a total new approach,” Dr. Carl June, a CAR T-cell pioneer at the University of Pennsylvania, told NPR.