The future of human gene therapy
Gene Therapy Department,
15049 San Pablo Avenue,
Richmond, CA 94804-0099, USA.
Mol Aspects Med. 2001 Jun;22(3):113-42.
ABSTRACTHuman gene therapy (HGT) is defined as the transfer of nucleic acids (DNA) to somatic cells of a patient which results in a therapeutic effect, by either correcting genetic defects or by overexpressing proteins that are therapeutically useful. In the past, both the professional and the lay community had high (sometimes unreasonably high) expectations from HGT because of the early promise of treating or preventing diseases effectively and safely by this new technology. Although the theoretical advantages of HGT are undisputable, so far HGT has not delivered the promised results: convincing clinical efficacy could not be demonstrated yet in most of the trials conducted so far, while safety concerns were raised recently as the consequence of the "Gelsinger Case" in Philadelphia. This situation resulted from the by now well-recognized disparity between theory and practice. In other words, the existing technologies could not meet the practical needs of clinically successful HGT so far. However, over the past years, significant progress was made in various enabling technologies, in the molecular understanding of diseases and the manufacturing of vectors. HGT is a complex process, involving multiple steps in the human body (delivery to organs, tissue targeting, cellular trafficking, regulation of gene expression level and duration, biological activity of therapeutic protein, safety of the vector and gene product, to name just a few) most of which are not completely understood. The prerequisite of successful HGT include therapeutically suitable genes (with a proven role in pathophysiology of the disease), appropriate gene delivery systems (e.g., viral and non-viral vectors), proof of principle of efficacy and safety in appropriate preclinical models and suitable manufacturing and analytical processes to provide well-defined HGT products for clinical investigations. The most promising areas for gene therapy today are hemophilias, for monogenic diseases, and cardiovascular diseases (more specifically, therapeutic angiogenesis for myocardial ischemia and peripheral vascular disease, restenosis, stent stenosis and bypass graft failure) among multigenic diseases. This is based on the relative ease of access of blood vessels for HGT, and also because existing gene delivery technologies may be sufficient to achieve effective and safe therapeutic benefits for some of these indications (transient gene expression in some but not all affected cells is required to achieve a therapeutic effect at relatively low [safe] dose of vectors). For other diseases (including cancer) further developments in gene delivery vectors and gene expression systems will be required. It is important to note, that there will not be a "universal vector" and each clinical indication may require a specific set of technical hurdles to overcome. These will include modification of viral vectors (to reduce immunogenicity, change tropism and increase cloning capacity), engineering of non-viral vectors by mimicking the beneficial properties of viruses, cell-based gene delivery technologies, and development of innovative gene expression regulation systems. The technical advances together with the ever increasing knowledge and experience in the field will undoubtedly lead to the realization of the full potential of HGT in the future.Biohappiness
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and further reading
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The Abolitionist Project
The Hedonistic Imperative
The Reproductive Revolution
MDMA: Utopian Pharmacology
Critique of Huxley's Brave New World