Regaining Lost Luster; January 2008; Scientific American Magazine; by Melinda Wenner; 2 Page(s)
The past 15 years have been a roller coaster for gene therapy. After being touted in the early 1990s as "the medicine of the future," gene therapy left an 18-year-old dead and three others with leukemia; in July it was tied to the death of a 36-year-old Illinois woman undergoing treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, although further investigation cleared her therapy of the blame. Gene therapy scientists, however, believe they can put the bad news behind them, thanks to a handful of recent developments and others just over the horizon.
Gene therapy describes any treatment in which doctors insert new or modified genes into a person's cells to treat or prevent disease. Researchers initially planned to treat hereditary disorders such as cystic fibrosis, in which normal gene products are deficient, by delivering functional copies of missing genes to cells that need them. Since then, scientists have expanded gene therapy's possible applications to include "training" immune cells to hunt down cancer, building new blood vessels and making the immune system resistant to infection.