Josh McQuillin, right, of Prince George, B.C., who is the first Canadian in history to receive a direct intravenous injection gene replacement therapy, undergoes tests at the University of Calgary’s clinical trials unit in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, March 14, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

B.C. man believed to be first Canadian to get intravenous gene therapy

CALGARY — A big sushi meal would have once made Josh McQuillin gravely ill, but the British Columbia man can now gorge on one of his favourite foods worry-free thanks to a breakthrough clinical trial for his rare genetic disorder.

McQuillin was 12 when he was diagnosed with urea cycle disorder, a life-threatening condition that causes ammonia to build up in the body and can put a person in a coma.

He had to strictly limit how much protein he ate and took expensive medication several times a day. He could never be too far from a hospital, which made it hard to travel abroad or join friends backcountry camping.

“Now I can eat as much protein as I want. I’m eating differently, sleeping differently, exercising differently,” McQuillin, 30, said during a monitoring appointment at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre on Thursday.

“I’ve gained a bit of weight. I’ve never had to fight weight gain before, which is kind of funny. I’ve always been underweight my whole entire life.”

The genes needed to process ammonia were delivered to McQuillin’s liver intravenously. A virus, modified to be harmless, was used as a transmitter. It’s believed McQuillin is the first Canadian to receive gene replacement this way. Only three other people in the world have undergone similar treatment.

McQuillin, who lives in Prince George, B.C., said he felt the results two weeks after the one-time injection.

Aneal Khan with the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine is leading the trial. He also treated McQuillin in Ontario when he first got sick as a boy.

Khan recalled telling McQuillin’s parents years ago that he wasn’t sure their son would survive.

“Since he’s had this therapy, his ammonia has not gone high, despite him eating whatever amount of protein he wants. It’s a massive change,” said Khan. “We’re very excited — especially for rare genetic diseases, DNA diseases — that we don’t have to tell the parents that stuff anymore.”

Khan said the treatment is being studied for other genetic diseases involving the liver such as hemophilia.

Alberta Health Services has set aside beds in Foothills hospital’s intensive care unit for clinical trial patients. That’s important, because it’s often not known whether an experimental treatment will have serious adverse effects, said Christopher Doig, a medical director in intensive care for the agency’s Calgary zone

“They can get it in a very safe way where they can be very closely watched, very closely monitored. At the same time, we’re not using resources taking away from other patients.”

McQuillin said he’s looking forward to going on a road trip in the United Kingdom this spring without having to worry about his medication or whether the nearest hospital can treat his condition. He can also rest easier when on his forestry job, which once required painstaking meal planning for trips into the bush.

“Everything’s 100 per cent good to go for now,” he said.

“I guess my only concern or fear is they don’t know really how long it will last. But it’s definitely exciting.”

Just Posted

WATCH: UCP leader Jason Kenney makes stop in Red Deer

A rally was held in the north end of the city Saturday afternoon

Good-bye ice and snow, hello potholes on Red Deer roads

City workers will be spending 20 hours a day on various road repairs

Fog advisory in effect for Red Deer, central Alberta

Heavy fog is affecting visibility for central Alberta drivers Saturday morning. A… Continue reading

Climate change’s impact on outdoor hockey discussed in Red Deer

Red Deer River Watershed Alliance held a forum Friday at the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame

Collision between Red Deer transit bus and truck investigated by RCMP

No one on bus was hurt, truck driver had minor injuries

WATCH: Fashion show highlights Cree designers

The fashion show was part of a Samson Cree Nation conference on MMIW

Montreal priest stabbed during mass leaves hospital; suspect to be charged

MONTREAL — A Catholic priest who was stabbed as he was celebrating… Continue reading

No winning ticket for Friday night’s $35.7 million Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the $35.7 million jackpot… Continue reading

New report details impact of proposed NS spaceport in event of explosion or fire

HALIFAX — The head of a company proposing to open Canada’s only… Continue reading

Quebec man convicted in Mafia-linked conspiracy deported to Italy

MONTREAL — Michele Torre, a Quebec man convicted in 1996 for his… Continue reading

Republican Karl Rove says conservatives need more than simplistic slogans

OTTAWA — Legendary Republican campaign strategist Karl Rove, known for his no-holds-barred… Continue reading

B.C. hospital’s use as shelter ‘clarion call’ about housing crisis, says mayor

The 10-bed regional hospital that serves the medical needs of 5,000 people… Continue reading

Puddle splashing: A rite of spring

Is there anything more fun than driving through water-filled potholes in the… Continue reading

Special evaluations can help seniors cope with cancer care

Before she could start breast cancer treatment, Nancy Simpson had to walk… Continue reading

Most Read