A six year-old leukaemia sufferer who became one of the first in the world to trial a new gene-therapy treatment is smiling again – after tests revealed her cancer has vanished.
Erin Cross, of Chester, in Cheshire, was gravely-ill earlier this year with deadly acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.
But after £100,000 was raised in a public appeal on ITV’s This Morning show with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, in July she jetted to Seattle with her doting parents Sarah and Antony Cross.
Experimental, pioneering new AR (Chimaeric Antigen Receptor) T-Cell therapy re-engineers the cells in the lab to attack and kill cancer cells when injected back into the patient’s body.
Now her family have been told by Seattle Children’s Hospital that blood tests reveal the cancer has completely disappeared.
Leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells and bone marrow. Because white blood cells are found in the lymph nodes and the spleen, leukaemia can affect them, as well as other organs in the body.
Leukaemia is a complicated disease. There are several types and subtypes. The name of the leukaemia you have depends on how quickly it develops and the type of white blood cell that becomes cancerous.
In acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) white blood cells called granulocytes or monocytes become cancerous. AML usually develops quickly, over days or weeks. It is the most common type of leukaemia in adults. It is most often diagnosed in older people, and is most common in people over 65 years old.
Cancer Research UK
And it means on December 28th at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital she will be well enough to have a bone marrow transplant – to make sure the leukaemia can never return.
Mrs Cross said: “We got a call from the hospital who told us the cancer cells have gone.
“We couldn’t believe it as she has never come back clear from any treatment before.
“She is running around now like any six year old.
“I’m so glad I pushed for her to get on the trial at Seattle, if I hadn’t she wouldn’t be here today.
“I knew that the T Cell therapy would be the only option with the chemotherapy not working – mother’s instinct was working hard at that point!
“We have never had a negative MRD bone marrow test before, it’s so amazing to hear the words ‘no signs of leukaemia’.
“I just want to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts.”
Her parents said they “cried tears of relief” after being told she was finally in remission from the disease that’s blighted her life for the past four years.
Erin had years of traditional cancer treatment but relapsed as the leukaemia came back stronger than ever.
Last June Mrs Cross appeared on ITV’s This Morning with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby to reveal their plans to jet her to America for the treatment.
She told of their struggles to conceive Erin, undergoing seven rounds of IVF treatment, and how hard it hit them when Erin relapsed after years of intensive chemotherapy.
She said: “We just couldn’t comprehend it when Erin relapsed after sailing through two and a half years of intensive treatment.
“She put on such a brave face though, and everyone who met her just fell in love with her.”
Now the new treatment has finally beaten her cancer, Mrs Cross said they were struggling to believe their luck in getting on the trial.
She said: “I was making the breakfast when I got the phone call from the team at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
“They wanted to get the important news to us that her sample was clear of leukaemia.
“I just broke down crying. I had to hang up and get myself together and go and spend some time with Erin and Antony.”
The ‘all-clear’ revelation was explained when Mrs Cross rang the T Cell (white blood cells) team back later to discuss her MRD bone marrow test.
MRD (Minimal residual disease) are the small numbers of leukaemia cells that remain in the bone marrow after treatment – which are the major cause of the disease returning again.
But when she spoke to the US hospital team Mrs Cross was stunned to be told that the pioneering treatment had been a massive success.
They said her MRD test was ‘negative’, her spinal fluid was clear and there was no sign anywhere of even tiny amounts of leukaemia in her body.