Emily Whitehead the First Child in the World to have her Immune System Activated to Fight Cancer visits NIBRT 

NIBRT was delighted to welcome Emily Whitehead and her family to the NIBRT facility on Friday 29th April. Emily took a tour of the research labs at NIBRT and her father Tom Whitehead shared with NIBRT Emily’s incredible story about how she became the first paediatric patient in the world to receive pioneering treatment CAR T-cell therapy to treat her cancer.

Tom and Kari Whitehead founded the Emily Whitehead Foundation to support and promote access for children around the world to innovative childhood cancer treatments that are more targeted, more effective and less toxic, such as the CAR T-cell therapy that saved Emily’s life. Emily Whitehead is now 10 years cancer free and leading a normal teenage life. For more information on the work of the Emily Whitehead Foundation Click Here

It was extremely motivating and inspiring for NIBRT staff to see and hear the human side of the benefits of research that institutes like NIBRT do. Since Emily received the first CAR-T treatment in 2012 the technology and science in this area has continued to develop at pace. We at NIBRT are involved in an exciting project with two Irish companies aimed at developing a novel device for performing the genetic engineering of patient T cells – literally putting the CAR into CAR-T! This research programme, partly funded by the Enterprise Ireland Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund (DTIF), will help provide a safe, efficient approach to engineering immune cells and hopefully help many more patients to benefit from these advances.

CAR-T is one example of a category of exciting and new therapeutic modalities commonly known as Cell and Gene Therapies (CGT). Another example of NIBRT activity in the CGT research space is a joint project with Abbvie focused on improving the manufacture and analysis of viral gene therapies. Gene therapy aims to correct or cure diseases where a functioning copy of a broken gene is delivered to patients using a virus as a delivery agent. These viral vectors are currently very expensive to manufacture and difficult to standardise. This project is already yielding some exciting results which we hope will lead to improvements in how viral vectors and ultimately gene therapies are produced.

View video footage of visit highlights here


NIBRT 29th April 2022