John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris: Bubble Boy Disease and When to Draw the Line in Medical Ethics

“Bubble Boy” David Vetter
CREDIT: Baylor College of Medicine Photo Archives

In the 1976 made-for-television movie, “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” a then-unknown John Travolta introduced Americans to a condition technically called “X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency.” Or, as people have called it since the movie, “bubble boy disease.”

Children with “bubble boy disease” can’t fight off infections that the rest of us can, because their immune system doesn’t work properly. Like Travolta’s character, many who suffer from the condition live in sealed, sterile enclosures that protect them from being exposed to the infections that could kill them.

In the movie, Travolta’s character somehow develops enough immunity to risk leaving the plastic bubble in search of true love, but many of his real-world counterparts aren’t so fortunate. At least they weren’t.

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine announced that doctors might have found a cure for “bubble boy disease.” Doctors at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis used an “inactivated form of HIV to introduce genetic changes into the patient’s bone marrow cells. These changes fix the bone marrow so it starts doing its job, pumping out all three types of immune cells.”

Seven infants with the condition, which is caused by a genetic defect, were treated between 2016 and 2018. Six of them were able to leave the hospital within four weeks and the seventh is apparently on the way to joining them.

For parents of the estimated thirty to forty children born with the condition every year, what happened in Memphis is nothing less than miraculous. Children who were virtually certain to die, sometimes by the age of two, now have a chance at life.

The same week the results at St. Jude’s were announced, we learned that Israeli scientists had succeeded in manufacturing a 3D printed heart made from human cells.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris