Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
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
Thursday, November 29th, 2012
The story of Mykayla Comstock, a 7-year-old Oregon girl who is undergoing treatment for leukemia, is at the center of a national debate on what age is appropriate to offer medical marijuana as a way to ease the symptoms of cancer treatments. The Oregonian newspaper reports on Comstock’s situation, which is unique in that her parents are divorced and do not agree on the use of cannabis in capsule form:
The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program serves 52 children who have a qualifying medical condition, parental consent and a doctor’s approval. Like adults, most cite pain as a qualifying condition, though many list multiple health problems, including seizures, nausea and cancer.
Allowing adults to consume medical marijuana is gaining acceptance nationwide. But Mykayla’s story underscores the complex issues that arise when states empower parents to administer the controversial drug to children.
Oregon’s law, approved by voters 14 years ago, requires no monitoring of a child’s medical marijuana use by a pediatrician. The law instead invests authority in parents to decide the dosage, frequency and manner of a child’s marijuana consumption.
The state imposes no standards for quality, safety or potency in the production of marijuana.
Little is known about how the drug interacts with the developing body, leading pediatricians say. A recent international study found sustained cannabis use among teens can cause long-term damage to intellect, memory and attention.
Many doctors worry about introducing a child to marijuana when they say other drugs can treat pain and nausea more effectively.
Mykayla’s father, who is divorced from the girl’s mother, was so disturbed by his daughter’s marijuana use that he contacted child welfare officials, police and her oncologist. Jesse Comstock said his concerns were prompted by a visit with Mykayla in August.
“She was stoned out of her mind,” said Comstock, 26. “All she wanted to do was lay on the bed and play video games.”
But Mykayla’s mother and her boyfriend, Erin Purchase and Brandon Krenzler, see the drug as a harmless antidote to leukemia’s host of horrors. The couple, regular cannabis users raised in Pendleton, said Mykayla relies almost exclusively on pot to treat pain, nausea, vomiting, depression and sleep problems associated with her cancer treatment.
Mykayla, who favors a knit cupcake cap to cover her fuzz of strawberry-colored hair, said marijuana makes her feel better.
It helps me eat and sleep,” she said, nestled against her mother on a couch. “The chemotherapy makes you feel like you want to stay up all night long.”
Marijuana, she said, “makes me feel funny, happy.”
“She’s like she was before,” her mother said. “She’s a normal kid.”
Image: Marijuana capsules, via Shutterstock