Six year old Emma Brooke Whitehead’s leukemia seemed terminal in April 2012, this brave girl battled against the foreign malignancy within her small body for two years until specialists broke the news that standard treatment would do nothing but waste time and ultimately would be ineffective. This was of course until pediatric oncologist Stephan A. Grupp, MD, PhD at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital implemented a ground breaking approach to treating terminal illness; in Emma’s case, Leukemia.
Grupp along with other colleagues pushed the limits of known medical practice in a desperate attempt to give the second grader a chance at life. Dr. Grupp and staff at C.H.O.P. (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) introduced a “re-purposed” HIV into the human body to battle the cancer/tumor cells growing inside of Emma. To Kari Whitehead, Emma’s mother, this was extreme and bit unsettling, but ultimately, this experimental procedure won this child a new lease on life.
Before being introduced, the HIV virus had been altered so that the disease causing agent within it, became inactive/not present, yet allowed the virus to still perform under its natural function of quickly infiltrating the immune system. This coupled with Emma’s native biological disease-fighting white blood cells (Which were extracted from her body), created a vehicle for delivering white blood cells directly to the sources of malignant growth, effectively targeting each cancer cell and in the end, there was no trace of HIV, and the Cancer cells were abated.
“Grupp then gave the second grader a rheumatoid arthritis drug “off label.” In arthritis, the drug was meant to block a specific part of the body’s immune reaction, part caused by white blood cells called T cells. In Emma’s case, it blocked the side effect of the cancer treatment. In just 12 hours, she stabilized”.
Now, Emma has the esteemed privilege of possibly becoming an iconic symbol of hope and a testament to human evolution in medical practice and application. She is the first human being to have this experimental procedure done, but according to Dr. Grupp, she is still being closely monitored and states that she must go a number of years and remain in remission “before we think about whether she is cured or not. It is too soon to say.” As of eight months after the historic treatment plan in April of 2012 (Dec. 2012), she was in complete remission and even plays soccer. We’ll check in on Emma soon to give you all an update.
“She has no leukemia in her body for any test that we can do — even the most sensitive tests,” he said. “We need to see that the remission goes on for a couple of years before we think about whether she is cured or not. It is too soon to say.”
Grupp was reported to have divulged plans for this new experimental treatment plan to be tried experimentally at other hospitals. “In the end this treatment is intended for childhood leukemia that has returned and no longer responds to chemotherapy. He said doctors hoped the T cell treatment would eventually replace bone marrow transplants”.
References: Ann Reynolds,ABC News
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