The genetically-edited immune cells that beat cancer

Layla became the first child in the world to receive a ground-breaking, genetic editing technique which creates designer immune cells to fight cancer.

Layla was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) at just three months old, and after several rounds of treatment, the family were told that Layla’s cancer had returned.

"We didn’t want to accept palliative care and give up on our daughter so we asked the doctors to try anything,” said Lisa, Layla’s mother.

An experimental trial

Layla and her family
Layla with her parents Lisa and Ashleigh and eight year old sister Reya
Layla and her family were offered hope when they were informed of an experimental trial which was being developed at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) to treat aggressive forms of cancer. A team of scientists and doctors took Layla’s cells and used ‘molecular scissors’ to edit out genes, creating specialised killer cells which could hunt out and eradicate her leukaemia. The treatment was so experimental that specialists had to apply for emergency permission from health regulators and the hospital’s ethics committee.

Once approved, it took just 10 minutes to administer the treatment and now Layla is free of cancer and back at home. Doctors are hopeful that she is cured but want to wait a year or two to make sure the disease does not return before giving her the all clear.

Hope for the future

The donor immune cells could be edited to help fight many other types of cancer and inherited diseases. Clinical trials have begun to see if the effects can be replicated.

"I consider ourselves lucky that we were in the right place at the right time to get a vial of these cells. We always said that we had to try new things as we didn’t want to be saying ‘what if?'

"Hopefully Layla will stay well and lots more children can be helped with this new treatment,” said Layla’s mum.

Our research strategy

GOSH is the UK’s largest dedicated charitable funder of medical research into children’s health, helping to save young lives every day. Discover how our research strategy will support research from the lab bench to the patients' bedside.