Gene therapy is a powerful new technology that has the ability to change the way medicine is practiced in the future. The potential of gene therapy offers great hope for cure and alleviation of suffering from genetic disorders that now plague numerous people. Within this past decade, much research has been conducted to learn about the aspects of gene therapy, but there is still much to learn before it is an effective medical treatment. Despite failures to prove any clinical efficacy, many experts of gene therapy predict that the first clinical success will occur in the near future. Gene therapy is a highly controversial topic that entails numerous ethical issues that need to be thoroughly analyzed before it is widely available to the public. While gene therapy may pose practical medical benefits for people, ethical considerations must be addressed in order for society to utilize the potentials of gene therapy appropriately.
What is gene therapy?
Gene therapy attempts to cure or treat genetic diseases by correcting the genetic errors responsible for it. Genetic diseases can be either inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis as well as acquired diseases such as cancer ("What is Gene Therapy?"). These diseases are caused by the absence or defective structure of specific genes that change the composition or pattern of proteins expressed by the cell ("What is Gene Therapy?"). Gene therapy attempts to treat these genetic disorders by inserting a normal gene into diseased cells to replace an absent or defective gene or to enhance the production of proteins that are needed to correct or prevent genetic diseases ("What is Gene Therapy?"). Essentially, gene therapy modifies the expression of a person's gene to provide the patients cells with the genetic information necessary to eliminate a genetic disease.
Types of gene therapy
Currently, there are two forms of gene therapy. One type is called somatic gene therapy, which involves the manipulation of gene expression in cells that will be corrective to the patient but not inherited to the next generation. This is the type of gene therapy that is currently being intensely studied in laboratories throughout the world. The other form of gene therapy is called germline gene therapy, which involves the genetic modification of germ cells that will pass the change on to the next generation. Little, if any, research is currently being conducted in germline intervention largely for technical and ethical reasons. However, many advocates of this type predict this will be a realistic option of gene therapy in the future.
How does gene therapy work?
When research on gene therapy began, the basic challenge was to develop a technique for delivering genetic material to the cells of the patient. Researchers first learned that gene delivery would not be effective unless the corrective genes were inserted into the nuclei of thousands or millions of diseases cells (Licking 96). When...