By Ross Walker

The Greater Ormond Street Hospital in London, which is one of the most prominent Childrens’ hospitals in the world, have created designer immune cells programmed to hunt and kill leukaemia.

A one year old girl by the name of Layla is now cancer free despite having a serious form of childhood leukaemia that was in her case unresponsive to any therapies. 

Researchers at the hospital used a technique known as gene editing, which is a form of genetic engineering.  

Genetic engineering is when DNA is inserted, replaced or removed from genes to fix faults or fight disease.

These particular edited cells were known as UCART19 cells. One ml was injected intravenously and after several weeks the leukaemia cells in Layla were disappearing. The  UCART19 cells were modified T-cells from healthy donors which are an integral part of the immune system.

Many cancers secrete chemicals that create an invisible shield that makes them unrecognisable to the immune system.

This genetic modification to the T-cells allows the immune system to recognise the cancer cells and set up an appropriate immune response.

There is significant work being carried on in a number of laboratories all over the world and it is my opinion that we are not too far from seeing some very serious major breakthroughs in the treatment of many different cancers. This work is extremely encouraging.