Monday, December 28, 2015

Breakthroughs galore: A transformative year in medicine

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 of us.

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 biotechnology company led to her being given an experimental therapy that had previously been tried only in mice.

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 thalassaemia, could be successfully corrected in embryos.

Gene editing has also been used to make mosquitoes 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.


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