Two Infants Cured of Terminal Cancer by Breakthrough Gene-Editing Therapy

British doctors eliminate the disease in two infants with incurable cancer by utilizing a medical first gene-editing techniques. 

A group of British doctors successfully eliminated cancer in two infants with leukemia by using genetically modified immune cells from a donor. The accomplishment opens a new age of cancer therapy treatment.


This medical first was carried out by doctors from London’s Ormond Street hospital on two children aged 11 and 16 months, who were not responding to other forms of therapy. Scientists manipulated the donor T cells to be able to kill the cells of leukemia, with chemotherapy following the new experimental approach. Now one of them has been cancer-free for a year and another for 18 months.

The difference in the treatment was that the engineered T-cells (known as CAR-T) were from another person, while usual T-cell therapy involves removing immune cells from the patient, modifying them and giving them back to the patient. What’s remarkable about this approach is that the cells could be collected from donors, treated and stored before they are needed, thus making it possible for the patient to receive them immediacy upon diagnosis. They would not have to wait for their own T cells to be modified. Additionally, blood from one donor could supply hundreds of treatments, reducing costs and efficiency. 

“We estimate the cost to manufacture a dose would be about $4,000,” told Julianne Smith, vice president of CAR-T development for Cellectis, supplier of universal cells, in an interview with Technology Review. “That’s compared to a cost of around $50,000 to alter a patient’s cells and return them.” 

The novel treatment is not yet available to the general public but CAR-T cell therapy is currently in phase II clinical trials in the U.S. There is also the question if the infants are actually cured, because doctors usually wait a few years before declaring someone completely cancer-free.

Some critics have pointed out that because chemotherapy was also used as part of the treatment, it's not entirely clear if the modified T-cells were the main cause of the improvements. But the doctors point to the long-lasting effects of their treatment and are enthusiastic about its potential in future treatments.

You can read the details of the cases here, published in the journal Science Translation Medicine.

Cover photo: One-year-old Layla Richards was treated by the new therapy and is now cancer-free. Credit: Great Ormond Street Hospital

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Why Elon Musk doesn't like Jeff Bezos's space colonies

Elon Musk took issue with recent ideas for space exploration from Jeff Bezos.

Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have sparred over space exploration previously.
  • Musk wants to focus on Mars while Bezos has the moon and space colonies as goals.
  • In a recent tweet, Musk called out Bezos's plans for space colonies as unrealistic.
Keep reading Show less

10 new things we’ve learned about death

If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.

Culture & Religion
  • For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
  • Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
  • Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Push Past Negative Self-Talk: Give Yourself the Proper Fuel to Attack the World, with David Goggins, Former NAVY SealIf you've ever spent 5 minutes trying to meditate, you know something most people don't realize: that our minds are filled, much of the time, with negative nonsense. Messaging from TV, from the news, from advertising, and from difficult daily interactions pulls us mentally in every direction, insisting that we focus on or worry about this or that. To start from a place of strength and stability, you need to quiet your mind and gain control. For former NAVY Seal David Goggins, this begins with recognizing all the negative self-messaging and committing to quieting the mind. It continues with replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones.