Cancer and HIV are both terrifying things to have in your body, but a new treatment is successfully pitting the latter against the former, and seven-year-old Emma Whitehead is alive to prove it. Months ago she was near death because of her chemo-resistant leukaemia, and now she’s in remission thanks to a de-fanged version of HIV.
Emma was one of the first patients to receive an experimental cancer-treatment method developed by the University of Pennsylvania. The process involves removing millions of the patient’s T-cells and giving them new genes using a modified version of HIV. The T-cells are then dripped back into the blood stream where they’ll fight the cancer, but it’s no joy-ride; the ensuing fight brings on rampant fevers and chills.
From the New York Times:
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.
Two other patients have been treated with this experimental process; one also experienced complete remission while the other’s cancer has weakened but is still present. All in all, the process seems promising for treating leukaemia so far, though the research team’s leader, Dr Carl June, told the New York Times that they won’t say the word “cure”. Nevertheless, here’s to hoping the treatment that saved Emma can move on to save hundreds and thousands more. [New York Times]