Experimental Leukemia Treatment Called ‘Breakthrough’

The family of 7-year-old Emma Whitehead are rejoicing after an experimental cancer treatment helped the girl beat leukemia that was threatening to take her life after two post-chemotherapy relapses. More from The New York Times:

“Desperate to save her, her parents sought an experimental treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one that had never before been tried in a child, or in anyone with the type of leukemia Emma had. The experiment, in April, used a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS to reprogram Emma’s immune system genetically to kill cancer cells.

The treatment very nearly killed her. But she emerged from it cancer-free, and about seven months later is still in complete remission. She is the first child and one of the first humans ever in whom new techniques have achieved a long-sought goal — giving a patient’s own immune system the lasting ability to fight cancer.

Emma had been ill with acute lymphoblastic leukemia since 2010, when she was 5, said her parents, Kari and Tom. She is their only child.

She is among just a dozen patients with advanced leukemia to have received the experimental treatment, which was developed at the University of Pennsylvania. Similar approaches are also being tried at other centers, including the National Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“Our goal is to have a cure, but we can’t say that word,” said Dr. Carl June, who leads the research team at the University of Pennsylvania. He hopes the new treatment will eventually replace bone-marrow transplantation, an even more arduous, risky and expensive procedure that is now the last hope when other treatments fail in leukemia and related diseases.”

Image: Laboratory technician, via Shutterstock

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