from the medicine-is-amazing-stuff dept.
Evelyn's older sister Josephine had spinal muscular atrophy type 1 (SMA1), a genetic disease that gradually paralyzes babies. She died at 15 months. Evelyn was an unexpected pregnancy, but her parents decided to have the baby despite one-in-four odds of a second tragedy.
Soon after Evelyn was born in December 2014, they were devastated to learn from genetic testing that she, too, had SMA1. "We knew what we were dealing with: We'll love her for as long as we can," says her father, Milan Villarreal. But that same night, frantically searching the internet, they learned about a clinical trial in Ohio and sent an email. At 8 weeks old, Evelyn received a gene therapy treatment that gave her body a crucial missing protein.
And now here she is, not so different from any healthy toddler. Although she has weak thighs and can't run normally or jump, she can walk quickly, dance, trace letters, toss foam blocks, carry a small chair, and climb onto her mother Elena's lap. After the heartbreak of losing their first baby, the Villarreals have watched in amazement as Evelyn has crawled, walked, and talked. "It was just a miracle. Every milestone was like a celebration. We opened a bottle of wine for every little thing she did," Milan says.
The results of the trial Evelyn participated in have blown away gene therapy researchers, too, marking one of the once-troubled field's most dramatic successes yet. All 15 babies treated for SMA1, expected to die by age 2, are alive at 20 months or older, and most can sit up, according to a report this week in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Like Evelyn, one boy is walking. Although a drug recently approved for SMA1 has achieved similar effects, it must be injected into the spine every 4 months. The gene therapy is intended as a one-time treatment, and it is simply infused into a vein. "I've never seen an effect [of gene therapy] that good in a lethal disease," says neurologist Jerry Mendell of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, who led the recent trial.
Single-Dose Gene-Replacement Therapy for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1706198) (DX)
After decades of hope and high promise, this was the year scientists really showed they could doctor DNA to successfully treat diseases. Gene therapies to treat cancer and even pull off the biblical-sounding feat of helping the blind to see were approved by U.S. regulators, establishing gene manipulation as a new mode of medicine.
Almost 20 years ago, a teen's death in a gene experiment put a chill on what had been a field full of outsized expectations. Now, a series of jaw-dropping successes have renewed hopes that some one-time fixes of DNA, the chemical code that governs life, might turn out to be cures. "I am totally willing to use the 'C' word," said the National Institutes of Health's director, Dr. Francis Collins.
[...] The advent of gene editing — a more precise and long-lasting way to do gene therapy — may expand the number and types of diseases that can be treated. In November, California scientists tried editing a gene inside someone's body for the first time using a tool called zinc finger nucleases for a man with a metabolic disease. It's like a cut-and-paste operation to place a new gene in a specific spot. Tests of another editing tool called CRISPR to genetically alter human cells in the lab may start next year. "There are a few times in our lives when science astonishes us. This is one of those times," Dr. Matthew Porteus, a Stanford University gene editing expert, told a Senate panel discussing this technology last month.
Previously: Gene Therapy Cure for Sickle-Cell Disease
Gene Therapy to Kill Cancer Moves a Step Closer to Market
U.S. Human Embryo Editing Study Published
FDA Approves a Gene Therapy for the First Time
Gene Editing Without CRISPR -- Private Equity Raises $127 Million
FDA Committee Endorses Gene Therapy for a Form of Childhood Blindness
FDA Approves Gene Therapy for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
Gene Therapy and Skin Grafting for Junctional Epidermolysis Bullosa
Gene Therapy for Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1
Biohackers Disregard FDA Warning on DIY Gene Therapy
CRISPR Used to Epigenetically Treat Diseases in Mice
Gene Therapy Showing Promise for Hemophilia B
Gene Therapy for Retinal Dystrophy Approved by the FDA
CRISPR Treatment for Some Inherited Forms of Lou Gehrig's Disease Tested in Mice