Imagine discovering that your child had cancer – what would you do?
It’s a terrible thing for any parent to have to face, but the decisions that the parents of two children being treated at Great Ormond Street hospital for cancer made may have repercussions for all of us when it comes to cancer treatment in the future.
The two girls, Layla and another who wishes to remain anonymous, nearly died and if hadn’t been for a brand new form of therapy, they almost certainly would have died. Here’s what you need to know about their heart-wrenching tale battling a fearsome disease.
10. Cancer Treatment Is Spotty At Best
Layla was just a year old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Leukemia is a cancer which regularly affects children and is often fatal if it cannot be treated effectively. Yet there are only two options when it comes to conventional treatment: radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and both have their drawbacks.
9. Layla Was Dying
Layla was dying. Her young body simply could not stand the chemotherapy or radiotherapy that would be required. These treatments attack the cancer, but also attack the body of the host. She was too weak and too sick to survive the treatments. Her parents were desperate, and time was running out for her.
8. An Emerging Form Of Treatment
Doctors at Layla’s hospital suggested Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is an emerging form of cancer treatment. The idea is simple – you work with the body’s own immune system to get the body to remove cancer. Layla’s mom said, “We didn’t want to give up on our daughter, though, so we asked the doctors to try anything.”
7. A Virus That Kills Cancer
CAR-T Cell Therapy is what they proposed to try with Layla. It works by using a virus to change the genetic code of the body’s T-cells. T-cells are a major part of our immune system. Altering T-cells through CAR-T Cell Therapy enables them to recognize the cancerous cells in the body and to attack them.
6. A Living Drug
The doctors working on CAR-T Cell Therapy say it is a “living drug.” They told Layla’s family that CAR-T Cell Therapy is “much more potent than anything we can achieve” with other forms of immunotherapy.
“It was scary to think the treatment had never been used in a human before,” said Layla’s father Ashleigh, “but there was no doubt we wanted to try the treatment. She was sick and in lots of pain, so we had to do something.”
5. Two Little Girls
In June 2015, Layla and another girl with a similar cancer were admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Both of their parents agreed to try the new gene therapy. They were told that there would be a risk that the treatment might cause additional problems as the chemical “scissors” used for adding the gene might cause further cancer.
4. The Results
The results, however, were very positive. Layla and the other girl had made substantial progress after the surgery and their cancer appeared to be in remission. Three months after the initial surgery, they were given bone marrow transplants to restore their immune systems and to ensure that there were no new cancers.
3. Today’s Results
The bone marrow transplants were successful and indeed, both girls went into complete remission which means that their cancer is “cured” for all intents and purposes. There is always the possibility of the cancer returning, but their doctors believe this to be highly unlikely.
But what does that mean for the rest of the world?
2. Expanded Trials
It is too early to say whether CAR-T Cell Therapy will be successful every time it is deployed. However, the results from the little girls’ experiences in Great Ormond Street have paved the way for wider clinical trials. These are already underway and early results seem to look promising.
1. A Cure For Cancer?
The medical professionals behind this radical new treatment certainly have high hopes, though there are hurdles. One of the big challenges of using CAR-T Cell Therapy is that each therapy must be developed individually for each patient. That’s an expensive process and would mean that CAR-T Cell Therapy is only available to a few people. A drug company in Paris is working hard to transform the therapy into a generic one.
If they succeed in their efforts – you could see a cure for cancer in your lifetime.