For many years the treatment of cancer has remained difficult and uncertain. Though there are many treatment methods such as chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, these methods are never guaranteed to work. However, a teenage girl named Alyssa diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) has been successfully treated with a new experimental treatment. T-ALL is a type of cancer where cancerous T-cells overpopulate healthy T-cells, leaving the patient susceptible to disease. In this form of cancer, T-cells also mistake each other as threats. Due to the nature of this cancer, in order for treatment to be effective, T-cells would have to appear foreign to the patient’s immune system. This is made possible through the gene editing system, CRISPR. For Alyssa’s treatment, doctors utilized and altered donated T-cells. Using CRISPR, the donated T-cells were stripped of CD7 protein, a common T-cell protein, and CD52 protein, a protein recognized by cancer treatment. Additionally, donated T-cells received a receptor that gave them the ability to target cancerous and healthy T-cells by having the ability to recognize CD7. All of these changes were made through a process called base editing with CRISPR. During base editing, individual letters, or bases, in the T-cells’ DNA code were altered. These minor alterations have the ability to change the nature of the cell. Thanks to this new treatment, Alyssa’s cancer is now undetectable.
I found T-ALL cancer and its destructive nature relatable to the way that viruses take over human body cells, however, our adaptive immunity uses antigens to recognize an intruder. T-cells contain specific proteins which make them recognizable to other T-cells, including cancerous ones. T-ALL destroys the body’s own T-cells which is why this specific treatment needed to use altered T-cells that did not contain recognizable proteins. When the body is infected by a virus, memory T and B cells use antibodies, a little piece of the virus, to remember and recognize the virus if it were to enter the body again.