Gene therapy comes roaring back

Gene therapy has always been controversial, mostly because it got off to a promising start and then floundered for almost a decade. But now it is the "comeback kid" of biotech, and is involved in almost 600 clinical trials in 20 countries.

  • Gene therapy holds promise for the 5 percent or so of children worldwide who are born with congenital or hereditary problems – as well as the nearly 40 percent of adults thought to have some genetic predisposition to conditions ranging from minor ailments to killers such as cancer and sickle cell anaemia.

  • The therapy involves substituting a good gene for one that is defective.

  • Scientists have now found that adding genes that cause the right proteins to be produced can potentially alleviate any number of disorders – from Parkinson's to heart disease to AIDS, although about two-thirds of clinical trials are for cancer.

  • Researchers at Jefferson Medical College in Pennsylvania have found that among 26 different cancer cell lines – including tumours of the lung, head and neck, oesophagus, stomach, cervix, pancreas and kidney – new genes inhibited cancer cell growth in more than half of the experiments.

    There has been only one gene-therapy related death and researchers have been able to trace what went wrong – thereby being able to avoid such an outcome in the future.

    Source: Michael Fumento (Hudson Institute), A New Start for Gene Therapy, Washington Times, October 31, 2002.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin \7 November 2002
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