HIV helps her beat leukaemia

UNITED STATES - It is a breakthrough in medical science - the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been used to treat leukaemia successfully in a young girl.

Last June, Emma Whitehead, then six, received an experimental form of this therapy. A spokesman at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia recently said she is in remission and cancer-free, reported WABC-TV New York.

"She is in complete remission, she has no leukaemia in her body by any test that we can do, even the most sensitive tests," said Dr Stephan Grupp.

Last spring, Emma nearly died from leukaemia. She had relapsed twice after chemotherapy and doctors had run out of options.

In desperation, her parents sought an experimental treatment at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, one that had never been tried in a child, or in anyone with the type of leukaemia Emma had, reported The New York Times.

The treatment used a weakened form of HIV to reprogram Emma's immune system to kill cancer cells. The fighting-fire-with-fire therapy very nearly killed her, but she emerged from it cancer-free. Indeed, she is the first child and one of the first humans ever in whom new techniques have achieved a long-sought goal - giving a patient's immune system the ability to fight cancer.

Emma, an only child, had been ill with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia since 2010, said her parents Kari and Tom.

She is just one of a few patients with advanced leukaemia to have received the experimental treatment developed at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Our goal is to have a cure, but we can't say that word," said Dr Carl June, who leads the research team at the university.

He hopes that the new therapy will one day replace bone-marrow transplantation, which is a risky and more expensive procedure, but is currently the last resort when other treatments fail in leukaemia and related diseases.

The HIV trial that began with three patients now has more than 20.

The latest results show 80 per cent of the children with leukaemia have been completely cured, reported WABC-TV New York. The video showing Emma's dramatic story has since gone viral.

Although it was created six months ago, a recent post on the Upworthy Facebook page is thought to made the video overwhelmingly popular with about 10,000 shares and countless blog posts within a day.

Emma is making such good progress that she has since gone back to school.

And though her grades are good and she reads about 50 books a month, she insisted jokingly that her favourite subjects are lunch and recess, reported The New York Times.

"It's time for her to be a kid again and get her childhood back," said Mr Whitehead.