Alyssa, a 13-year-old, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia in 2021. After being the first to test CRISPR, a new form of treatment, her cancer is still in remission six months later, providing hope to cancer patients world-wide.
Alyssa suffered from Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of leukemia among children. ALL develops when a patient’s bone marrow cells develop a change, or mutation, in their DNA. The DNA of a cell is responsible for controlling cell growth and death at set times. When the DNA mutates for a reason still unknown, the bone marrow cells develop only partially. These partial cells soon develop into leukemic white blood cells, or lymphoblasts, which grow and divide uncontrollably.
For many patients, chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants kill the lymphoblasts. However, Alyssa’s leukemia was too severe. Her parents knew it was only a matter of time before leukemia took her life. Desperate, Alyssa’s parents turned to new research at University College London (UCL). Waseem Qasim, the lead researcher, turned to base-editing, or changing one letter of the DNA to another, creating a new form of therapy named CRISPR. Starting with healthy donor T-cells, the edits would remove CD7 to protect the donor T-cell, resisting chemotherapy, and most importantly, remove cell-receptors so the cells won’t attack Alyssa’s body.
Alyssa was the first patient ever to test out CRISPR. In 28 days of treatment, her cancer was in remission. Now, six months later, she is doing better with her cancer still in remission.
Her mother, Kiona, adds "Hopefully this can prove the research works and they can offer it to more children."
CRISPR has the potential to help 500,000 leukemia patients across the globe.