A New Future: Gene Therapy
Imagine a world where a person could change his or her genetic structure and redirect the future course of evolution in their child and themselves. Through gene therapy this is a very real possibility. In the future it could be just as easy to change your physical or mental health as it is to get flu shot now. But the affects of gene therapy are long lasting and could affect your future offspring as well as your own health.
What is gene therapy?
First discovered in the middle of the 1970's researchers were able to isolate certain genes from DNA. During the 1980's the term gene therapy came about and propelled research further.
The definition of gene therapy is a "technique where the genes causing a defect are themselves substituted by correct genes in the patient to cure a disease" (Macer, 1990).
At birth each of us receives a set of chromosomes that contain the genes that code for our personality, appearance, and long term-health (Becker,1996). When one of those genes has a mutation or flaw in the DNA structure it can lead to disease. Some diseases related to genetic inheritance are diabetes, sickle cell anemia, and some cancers. With gene therapy we can eliminate these diseases before they even show their fist symptom.
There are two types of gene therapy treatments. They differ in the consequences they have for the patients. The first is somatic cell gene therapy. In this process faulty genes are replaced by the correct sequence of genes. The body can then make the correct protein and ultimately eliminate the faulty gene causing the disease. It is only necessary to treat enough cells to provide adequate amounts of the correct protein so that some reach the site of action (Macer, 1990).
Somatic gene therapy is only corrective to the patient and cannot be passed on to the net generation. This is because any rearranging of genes happens in the somatic or non-reproductive cells (BIO, 1990).
The net type of gene therapy takes place in the reproductive cells or germline cells. The term germline therapy is used to describe the form of gene therapy where the correct gene is inserted into the reproductive cells. Therefore when the treated individual reproduces his or her offspring will have the correct gene instead of the defected one. This treatment affects both the parent and the offspring. It is also possible to insert a manipulated gene into an early embryo so this new individual will have the correct gene sequence. This treatment only affects the embryo. One thing to remember is that germline therapy not only affects the individual but their potential offspring as well (BIO, 1990). Thus germline therapy is passed on into the gene pool of future generations.
The challenge in gene therapy is how to get the correct genetic material to the appropriate cells. According to Encyclopedia Britannica online 1998 there are three types of delivery systems- a viral vector, a chemical method or a physical...