Layla Richards was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014 when she was just 14 weeks old, and now her cancer is in remission after she was treated with an experimental, edited T-cells from a donor; and her parents who never thought she would live to be two couldn’t be happier today.
Doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London had carried out a bone marrow transplant on Layla following several other treatment options, but nothing seemed to work for her and doctors told her parents to consider palliative care since they couldn’t do more for her.
The Richards would not agree to palliative care, nor would they give up on their precious daughter, but they told the doctors to explore all options to make their daughter well and healthy again. Then this was when health officials thought they could try an experimental treatment that had proved successful in lab mice on the little patient, and Layla’s parents agreed to it.
Securing donated T-cells which are capable of fighting off body invasions, the doctors re-engineered the cells so that they could attack her cancer cells. Meanwhile, doctors have used T-cells from patients in such manner before, but they had never used one from a donor or tried to edit one from donors before.
Layla was too young to have sufficient T-cells that could be harvested and then modified with genetic material to do the work. But Dr. Waseem Qasim, professor of cell and gene therapy at University College of London’s Institute of Child Health, worked with the family to design Layla’s treatment from donor T-cells.
There was the risk that the reengineered donor T-cells would attack Layla’s system, but she only developed a slight rash, and that was it. No “graft vs. host” situation developed in her. The experiment worked, and Layla’s cancer is now in remission, but doctors had performed a second bone marrow transplant to boost her immune system.
Dr. Qasim cautioned that the treatment worked very well for Layla, but there is no indication that it will work for other children with leukemia, and that more research needs to be done in using gene engineering technology to treat leukemia and all other cancer types.