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Congrats, you beat cancer. The bad news is now you have HIV

A seven year old girl and her doctors were able to completely beat leukemia with an unlikely ally— the HIV virus. In a last ditch effort to save the girl’s life, doctors injected her with a disabled version of the HIV virus that allowed her body to sort of reprogram itself to fight cancer cells. And it worked.

Doctors suggested they sign Emily up to a clinical trial that would use a disabled form of HIV to carry cancer-fighting genes into her T-cells (disease fighting cells). The hope was that this would re-programme her immune system to recognise the cancer cells and start killing them. Several adults had already been enrolled in the study at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and had responded well, but as it was so new the treatment wasn’t without risks. But time was running out for Emily, who is also known as Emma.

Mr Whitehead said: ‘We were told that we were down to 48 hours of making a decision or she could start having organ failure.’ They comforted themselves with the knowledge that even if the treatment didn’t work, it would provide doctors with information that could help them save other sick children.

The family had been warned Emily could experience flu-like symptoms a few days after her re-engineered T-cells were injected back into her. But her symptoms were far more serious than doctors anticipated. She became critically ill and was admitted to intensive care at the children’s hospital. On April 24, doctors told her parents she had a one in 1,000 chance of surviving the night.

Trial leader Dr Stephan Grupp and his team realised that the level of a certain protein had become very elevated as a result of the T-cells growing in Emily’s body. This same protein is involved in rheumatoid arthritis, and there is a drug for that disease that turns off production of that particular protein. The team administered the drug to Emily, with dramatic results. Almost overnight, her breathing improved, her fever dropped and her blood pressure was back to normal. Mrs Whitehead said Emily inspired them with how she coped.

‘She’s extremely smart and creative. She’s funny - she makes us laugh all the time. She never complains,’ she said.

Via


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