Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 30th 2015 Contents A26
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This year has seen the dawn of gene editing, the
rise of immunotherapy and the first hints of a drug
to slow the pace of Alzheimer s disease. They could
all be breakthroughs that change medicine for all
Meet Layla Richards, the baby who marked a new
era of medicine. On the day before her first birthday,
Layla s parents were told that all treatments for her
leukaemia had failed and she was going to die.The
determination of her family, doctors and a biotech-
nology company led to her being given an exper-
imental therapy that had previously been tried only
The "miracle" treatment that has so far saved her
life was a tiny vial filled with genetically engineered
immune cells that were designed to kill her cancer.
It raises the prospect of similar methods being used
to treat a whole range of genetic disease.
Meanwhile earlier this year, a group in China
announced it was the first to successfully edit the
genome of a human embryo. The breakthrough at
Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong showed the
errors in DNA that led to a blood disorder, beta tha-
lassaemia, could be successfully corrected in embryos.
Gene editing has also been used to make mos-
quitoes resistant to malaria and to make pig organs
suitable for human transplant.
The techniques have thrown up a huge number
of ethical issues including concerns about the creation
of designer babies.
A pivotal meeting of the world s leading scientists
said it would be "irresponsible" to allow the creation
of genetically altered humans, but that basic research
involving embryo gene editing should continue.
Cancer medicine is on the cusp of a revolution
after one of its most promising fields---immunother-
apy---finally came of age.
If you have flu, your immune system seeks out
and destroys the virus. But tumours can masquerade
as healthy, normal tissue to evade assault.
Immunotherapy stops cancer hiding and exposes it
to the immune system.
Data from two large trials presented at the American
Society of Clinical Oncology annual conference
showed lung cancer survival was doubled in some
patients with such an approach. And tumours were
shrunk in nearly six out of ten patients with advanced
But the averages hide some remarkable stories.
The few patients who responded best to treatment
went from terminal cancer to no cancer at all.
This is one of the hottest fields in medicine.
The relentless march of antibiotic resistance con-
tinued this year. Some doctors declared that the
world was now on the cusp of a "post-antibiotic
era" after finding bacteria resistant to drugs used
when all other treatments have failed. They identified
bacteria able to shrug off the drug of last resort---
colistin---in patients and livestock in China. Resistance
has since been found in Europe, Africa and other
parts of Asia. It raises concerns of the "antibiotic
apocalypse" in which treatments fail and chemother-
apy, surgery and organ transplants become near
However, resistance is only a problem for as long
as there are no new drugs coming through.
But in a sign that the apocalypse might yet be
averted, a team in the US believe the decades-long
drought in antibiotic discovery could be over. The
team at Northeastern University in Boston developed
a novel method for growing bacteria that has yielded
25 new antibiotics, with one deemed "very promis-
ing"---Teixobactin. Born from a unique approach and
found in the soil, this is the first antibiotic discovered
that lacks any detectable resistance. Though still a
couple years away from human trials, the research is
being called a "game-changer" and a major break-
through. Teixobactin has the potential to treat a variety
of menacing superbugs and infections, among them
The discovery of Teixobactin would not have been
possible without a device called an iChip, a small, plastic
device designed by Northeastern Professor of Biology
Slava Epstein and Professor Lewis.
Testing on the drugs is continuing.
Breakthroughs galore: A transformative year in medicine
(Part 1---concludes tomorrow)
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
Layla Richards had fatal
of genetically engineered
immune cells killed her
cancer and saved her life.
Gene editing treatments
like this promise huge
but also open the gates
to many ethical
dilemmas, including the
prospect of gene-
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