It’s believed the B.C. man is the first Canadian to receive gene replacement this way. Only three other people in the world have undergone similar treatment. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

It’s believed the B.C. man is the first Canadian to receive gene replacement this way. Only three other people in the world have undergone similar treatment. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

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

Prince George resident said he felt the results two weeks after the one-time injection

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.

READ MORE: Scientists back temporary global ban on gene-edited babies

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.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Victoria for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

(Courtesy Saanich Police Dept.)
Police hope boot search will help find missing Saanich man

Sean Hart is known to walk for miles, with or without his boots

A Colwood couple has set up over 140 Christmas inflatable decorations around their property at 555 Girdou Rd. The home is lit with Christmas music playing from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
PHOTOS: Colwood house decorated to the nines with Christmas inflatables

Display on Girou Road open to spectators from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday

Shopping in the evening in downtown Victoria can be a good time to go, with relatively few people in store and plenty of room to physically distance, as this photo from Government Street shows. (Don Descoteau/News Staff) 
Shopping in the evening in downtown Victoria can be a good time to go, with relatively few people in store and plenty of room to physically distance, as this photo from Government Street shows. But thanks to a new program from the Downtown Victoria Business Association, many downtown businesses will soon be able to provide free delivery for customers across the region. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Downtown Victoria businesses offered free delivery for regional customers

DVBA launches ‘Downtown Delivers’ program Dec. 7

Saanich police reported a crash on the Pat Bay Highway near Haliburton Road impacting southbound traffic Friday afternoon. (Google Maps)
UPDATED: Pat Bay Highway clear following two-vehicle crash

Two drivers were transported to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

The opening day on Mount Washington this year was Dec. 4. Screenshot
Mount Washington opens on time, COVID-19 protocols in place

“We’re super excited - it’s been six months in the planning.”

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of payments for household incomes up to $175,000

Most Read