Would you consider altering your DNA if it could save your life? Scientist have been working on gene therapy since the 1970's, this biotechnological form of medicine is the attempt to medically modify cells to help eliminate or prevent diseases by correcting defective genes. Imagine the possibilities of having your DNA tested for heritable diseases and being able to eliminate such diseases from your future.
From 1990-2003 the Department of Energy coordinated a project called the Human Genome Project, in which it asked, "Why screen for individuals at increased risk for genetic diseases who do not exhibit symptoms? On the pro or benefit side, we want to reduce morbidity and mortality. The idea is, if we could find the disease early before symptoms were present, we could avoid much pain and suffering by modifying the course of the disease through treatment and changes in lifestyle; we could increase the life span and perhaps provide a better quality of life." (Oak Ridge National Laboratory [ORNL], 2002). Although gene therapy has been studied and trialed it is still in its infancy, as it has yet to be fully approved for widespread use. Looking at the benefits and risks, along with social concern, what is the future of gene therapy?
The funding of the Human Genome Project paved the way for future gene therapies. This project allowed scientist to research the makeup of the body and understand the DNA sequence. Gene therapy is the modification of a gene and introducing the modified gene back into the body. The modified gene has to be delivered by a vector, which is a way of transferring genetic material to a targeted cell. the CISN Cancer website, provides information on vectors such as, stem-cells and liposome's, and also viral vectors; Retroviruses, Adenoviruses, Adeno-associated viruses, and Herpes simplex viruses. (Cancer Information and Support Network [CISN], N.d.). These vectors can be used to transfer the altered gene, but it must work in conjunction with gene therapy, either somatic or germ-line therapy.
Gene therapy can be delivered through two methods, ex vivo or somatic therapy and in vivo or germ-line therapy. Somatic therapy is the method of gene therapy that can be used on existing human beings, as in it is the modification of genes and introducing them back into the body. According to the Genetics & Public Policy Center, Somatic gene therapy has only been successful a few times during a clinical trial, in treating the X-chromosome linked severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome (X-SCID). The trial was somewhat unsuccessful for some of the children who participated, as they developed leukemia (dnapoicy.org). There was success with a 4 year old and 9 year old, who underwent the same procedure for SCID, and both are alive today. (McCain, 2005).
Somatic therapy does not affect future generations because the modified genes are not passed on, as it does in germ-line therapy. The purpose of Human Germline Genetic Modification...