Scientists Can Now Just ‘Edit’ Disease Right Out of Our Genes

A baby in the U.K. is in full remission from a form of blood cancer.

Layla was an infant with lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of cancer that attacks the blood itself. After months of poor responses to conventional treatments, her doctors in London went for broke: they genetically engineered donated T cells to defend the child from her disease. And, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, it worked: “A few weeks after the designer cells were injected, her leukemia disappeared.”

It’s been three months, and the little girl remains cancer-free, the Journalreports. The genetic editing technique that appears to have saved her may open up a future only dreamed of:

“We’ll start talking about a cure only a year or two from now” provided the cancer doesn’t return, said Paul Veys, the doctor in charge of the patient’s treatment at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, where the procedure was done.

No one is banking on that longed-for cure just yet, though. As the Journal article notes, Layla is just one patient, and there is still a chance her leukemia could return. But gene editing, hold promise. The practice, where “certain molecules are used as tiny scissors to cut and fix a broken gene in a cell” is similar to, say, the waya video editor might trim several seconds from a scene in a movie. Gene editing removes misfiring segments of DNA in hopes that will eliminate a genetic disease. 

Layla reportedly remains in “deep remission” from her form of leukemia. And despite doctors’ warnings not to get our hopes up, it’s hard not to. Cancer is a bastard, anything that can give real hope of one day making it a thing of the past is about as kick ass as medicine can get. 

Photos by Christoph Bock/Wikimedia