Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gene therapy

In most gene therapy studies, a "correct copy" or "wild type" gene is provided or inserted into the genome. Generally, it is not an exact replacement of the "abnormal," disease-causing gene, but rather extra, correct copies of genes are provided to complement the loss of function. A carrier called a vector must be used to deliver the therapeutic gene to the patient's target cells. Currently, the most common type of vectors are viruses that have been genetically altered to carry normal human DNA. Viruses have evolved a way of encapsulating and delivering their genes to human cells in a pathogenic manner. Scientists have tried to harness this ability by manipulating the viral genome to remove disease-causing genes and insert therapeutic ones.

Target cells such as the patient's liver or lung cells are infected with the vector. The vector then unloads its genetic material containing the therapeutic human gene into the target cell. The generation of a functional protein product from the therapeutic gene restores the target cell to a normal state.