Doctors in London successfully used a gene-editing technique called TALEN to eliminate lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive from of blood cancer, from an infant girl.
The young girl, Layla, had not responded to traditional treatments such as chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant. As a last-ditch effort to save the girl, doctors took immune system cells called T cells from a donor and genetically engineered them not to attack the girl's own body, and be more effective at finding and killing leukemia cells. The leukemia disappeared a few weeks after Layla was injected with the genetically engineered cells, and it has not returned three months later.
Doctors are optimistic about this new treatment, but they also warn not to get overzealous about its potential. The technique has been used on only one patient, and the research has yet to be published or peer-reviewed. And there are deep ethical concerns among people who want to prevent this technology from being used to genetically engineer unborn infants for desired traits.
Still, a number of companies are beginning to work with gene-editing tools. Editas Medicine hopes to use CRISPR, one of the most promising and cost-effective tools, . With others looking into applications such as HIV treatment and guarding against viral infections, gene-editing could be a major part of our medical industry in the near future.