In the medicine field gene therapy (also called human gene transfer) is the therapeutic delivery of nucleic acid into a patient's cells as a drug to treat disease. The first attempt at modifying human DNA was performed in 1980 by Martin Cline, but the first successful nuclear gene transfer in humans, approved by the National Institutes of Health, was performed in May 1989. The first therapeutic use of gene transfer as well as the first direct insertion of human DNA into the nuclear genome was performed by French Anderson in a trial starting in September 1990.
Not all medical procedures that introduce alterations to a patient's genetic makeup can be considered gene therapy. Bone marrow transplantation and organ transplants in general have been found to introduce foreign DNA into patients. Gene therapy is defined by the precision of the procedure and the intention of direct therapeutic effect.
Gene therapy was conceptualized in 1972, by authors who urged caution before commencing human gene therapy studies.
The first attempt, an unsuccessful one, at gene therapy (as well as the first case of medical transfer of foreign genes into humans not counting organ transplantation) was performed by Martin Cline on 10 July 1980. Cline claimed that one of the genes in his patients was active six months later, though he never published this data or had it verified and even if he is correct, it's unlikely it produced any significant beneficial effects treating beta-thalassemia.
After extensive research on animals throughout the 1980s and a 1989 bacterial gene tagging trial on humans, the first gene therapy widely accepted as a success was demonstrated in a trial that started on 14 September 1990, when Ashi DeSilva was treated for ADA-SCID.
The first somatic treatment that produced a permanent genetic change was performed in 1993.
Early clinical failures led to dismissals of gene therapy. Clinical successes since 2006 regained researchers' attention, although as of 2014, it was still largely an experimental technique. These include treatment of retinal diseases Leber's congenital amaurosis and choroideremia, X-linked SCID, ADA-SCID, adrenoleukodystrophy, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), multiple myeloma, haemophilia, and Parkinson's disease. Between 2013 and April 2014, US companies invested over $600 million in the field.
The first commercial gene therapy, Gendicine, was approved in China in 2003 for the treatment of certain cancers. In 2011 Neovasculgen was registered in Russia as the first-in-class gene-therapy drug for treatment of peripheral artery disease, including critical limb ischemia. In 2012 Glybera, a treatment for a rare inherited disorder,  became the first treatment to be approved for clinical use in either Europe or the United States after its endorsement by the European Commission.
Following early advances in genetic engineering of bacteria, cells, and small animals, scientists started considering how to apply it to medicine. Two main approaches were considered – replacing or disrupting defective genes. Scientists focused on diseases caused by single-gene defects, such as cystic fibrosis, haemophilia, muscular dystrophy, thalassemia, and sickle cell anemia. Glybera treats one such disease, caused by a defect in lipoprotein lipase.
DNA must be administered, reach the damaged cells, enter the cell and either express or disrupt a protein. Multiple delivery techniques have been explored. The initial approach incorporated DNA into an engineered virus to deliver the DNA into a chromosome. Naked DNA approaches have also been explored, especially in the context of vaccine development.
Generally, efforts focused on administering a gene that causes a needed protein to be expressed. More recently, increased understanding of nuclease function has led to more direct DNA editing, using techniques such as zinc finger nucleases and CRISPR. The vector incorporates genes into chromosomes. The expressed nucleases then knock out and replace genes in the chromosome. As of 2014 these approaches involve removing cells from patients, editing a chromosome and returning the transformed cells to patients.
Gene editing is a potential approach to alter the human genome to treat genetic diseases, viral diseases, and cancer. As of 2016 these approaches were still years from being medicine.
Gene therapy may be classified into two types:
In somatic cell gene therapy (SCGT), the therapeutic genes are transferred into any cell other than a gamete, germ cell, gametocyte, or undifferentiated stem cell. Any such modifications affect the individual patient only, and are not inherited by offspring. Somatic gene therapy represents mainstream basic and clinical research, in which therapeutic DNA (either integrated in the genome or as an external episome or plasmid) is used to treat disease.
Over 600 clinical trials utilizing SCGT are underway in the US. Most focus on severe genetic disorders, including immunodeficiencies, haemophilia, thalassaemia, and cystic fibrosis. Such single gene disorders are good candidates for somatic cell therapy. The complete correction of a genetic disorder or the replacement of multiple genes is not yet possible. Only a few of the trials are in the advanced stages.
In germline gene therapy (GGT), germ cells (sperm or egg cells) are modified by the introduction of functional genes into their genomes. Modifying a germ cell causes all the organism's cells to contain the modified gene. The change is therefore heritable and passed on to later generations. Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Switzerland, and the Netherlands prohibit GGT for application in human beings, for technical and ethical reasons, including insufficient knowledge about possible risks to future generations and higher risks versus SCGT. The US has no federal controls specifically addressing human genetic modification (beyond FDA regulations for therapies in general).
The delivery of DNA into cells can be accomplished by multiple methods. The two major classes are recombinant viruses (sometimes called biological nanoparticles or viral vectors) and naked DNA or DNA complexes (non-viral methods).
In order to replicate, viruses introduce their genetic material into the host cell, tricking the host's cellular machinery into using it as blueprints for viral proteins. Retroviruses go a stage further by having their genetic material copied into the genome of the host cell. Scientists exploit this by substituting a virus's genetic material with therapeutic DNA. (The term 'DNA' may be an oversimplification, as some viruses contain RNA, and gene therapy could take this form as well.) A number of viruses have been used for human gene therapy, including retroviruses, adenoviruses, herpes simplex, vaccinia, and adeno-associated virus. Like the genetic material (DNA or RNA) in viruses, therapeutic DNA can be designed to simply serve as a temporary blueprint that is degraded naturally or (at least theoretically) to enter the host's genome, becoming a permanent part of the host's DNA in infected cells.
Non-viral methods present certain advantages over viral methods, such as large scale production and low host immunogenicity. However, non-viral methods initially produced lower levels of transfection and gene expression, and thus lower therapeutic efficacy. Later technology remedied this deficiency.
Methods for non-viral gene therapy include the injection of naked DNA, electroporation, the gene gun, sonoporation, magnetofection, the use of oligonucleotides, lipoplexes, dendrimers, and inorganic nanoparticles.
Some of the unsolved problems include:
Three patients' deaths have been reported in gene therapy trials, putting the field under close scrutiny. The first was that of Jesse Gelsinger, who died in 1999 because of immune rejection response. One X-SCID patient died of leukemia in 2003. In 2007, a rheumatoid arthritis patient died from an infection; the subsequent investigation concluded that the death was not related to gene therapy.
In 1972 Friedmann and Roblin authored a paper in Science titled "Gene therapy for human genetic disease?" Rogers (1970) was cited for proposing that exogenous good DNA be used to replace the defective DNA in those who suffer from genetic defects.
In 1984 a retrovirus vector system was designed that could efficiently insert foreign genes into mammalian chromosomes.
The first approved gene therapy clinical research in the US took place on 14 September 1990, at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), under the direction of William French Anderson. Four-year-old Ashanti DeSilva received treatment for a genetic defect that left her with ADA-SCID, a severe immune system deficiency. The defective gene of the patient's blood cells was replaced by the functional variant. Ashanti’s immune system was partially restored by the therapy. Production of the missing enzyme was temporarily stimulated, but the new cells with functional genes were not generated. She led a normal life only with the regular injections performed every two months. The effects were successful, but temporary.
Cancer gene therapy was introduced in 1992/93 (Trojan et al. 1993). The treatment of glioblastoma multiforme, the malignant brain tumor whose outcome is always fatal, was done using a vector expressing antisense IGF-I RNA (clinical trial approved by NIH protocolno.1602 November 24, 1993, and by the FDA in 1994). This therapy also represents the beginning of cancer immunogene therapy, a treatment which proves to be effective due to the anti-tumor mechanism of IGF-I antisense, which is related to strong immune and apoptotic phenomena.
In 1992 Claudio Bordignon, working at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, performed the first gene therapy procedure using hematopoietic stem cells as vectors to deliver genes intended to correct hereditary diseases. In 2002 this work led to the publication of the first successful gene therapy treatment for adenosine deaminase deficiency (ADA-SCID). The success of a multi-center trial for treating children with SCID (severe combined immune deficiency or "bubble boy" disease) from 2000 and 2002, was questioned when two of the ten children treated at the trial's Paris center developed a leukemia-like condition. Clinical trials were halted temporarily in 2002, but resumed after regulatory review of the protocol in the US, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany.
In 1993 Andrew Gobea was born with SCID following prenatal genetic screening. Blood was removed from his mother's placenta and umbilical cord immediately after birth, to acquire stem cells. The allele that codes for adenosine deaminase (ADA) was obtained and inserted into a retrovirus. Retroviruses and stem cells were mixed, after which the viruses inserted the gene into the stem cell chromosomes. Stem cells containing the working ADA gene were injected into Andrew's blood. Injections of the ADA enzyme were also given weekly. For four years T cells (white blood cells), produced by stem cells, made ADA enzymes using the ADA gene. After four years more treatment was needed.
Jesse Gelsinger's death in 1999 impeded gene therapy research in the US. As a result, the FDA suspended several clinical trials pending the reevaluation of ethical and procedural practices.
The modified cancer gene therapy strategy of antisense IGF-I RNA (NIH n˚ 1602) using antisense / triple helix anti-IGF-I approach was registered in 2002 by Wiley gene therapy clinical trial - n˚ 635 and 636. The approach has shown promising results in the treatment of six different malignant tumors: glioblastoma, cancers of liver, colon, prostate, uterus, and ovary (Collaborative NATO Science Programme on Gene Therapy USA, France, Poland n˚ LST 980517 conducted by J. Trojan) (Trojan et al., 2012). This anti-gene antisense/triple helix therapy has proven to be efficient, due to the mechanism stopping simultaneously IGF-I expression on translation and transcription levels, strengthening anti-tumor immune and apoptotic phenomena.
Sickle-cell disease can be treated in mice. The mice – which have essentially the same defect that causes human cases – used a viral vector to induce production of fetal hemoglobin (HbF), which normally ceases to be produced shortly after birth. In humans, the use of hydroxyurea to stimulate the production of HbF temporarily alleviates sickle cell symptoms. The researchers demonstrated this treatment to be a more permanent means to increase therapeutic HbF production.
In 2003 a research team inserted genes into the brain for the first time. They used liposomes coated in a polymer called polyethylene glycol, which unlike viral vectors, are small enough to cross the blood–brain barrier.
Short pieces of double-stranded RNA (short, interfering RNAs or siRNAs) are used by cells to degrade RNA of a particular sequence. If a siRNA is designed to match the RNA copied from a faulty gene, then the abnormal protein product of that gene will not be produced.
Gendicine is a cancer gene therapy that delivers the tumor suppressor gene p53 using an engineered adenovirus. In 2003, it was approved in China for the treatment of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.
In March researchers announced the successful use of gene therapy to treat two adult patients for X-linked chronic granulomatous disease, a disease which affects myeloid cells and damages the immune system. The study is the first to show that gene therapy can treat the myeloid system.
In May a team reported a way to prevent the immune system from rejecting a newly delivered gene. Similar to organ transplantation, gene therapy has been plagued by this problem. The immune system normally recognizes the new gene as foreign and rejects the cells carrying it. The research utilized a newly uncovered network of genes regulated by molecules known as microRNAs. This natural function selectively obscured their therapeutic gene in immune system cells and protected it from discovery. Mice infected with the gene containing an immune-cell microRNA target sequence did not reject the gene.
In November researchers reported on the use of VRX496, a gene-based immunotherapy for the treatment of HIV that uses a lentiviral vector to deliver an antisense gene against the HIV envelope. In a phase I clinical trial, five subjects with chronic HIV infection who had failed to respond to at least two antiretroviral regimens were treated. A single intravenous infusion of autologous CD4 T cells genetically modified with VRX496 was well tolerated. All patients had stable or decreased viral load; four of the five patients had stable or increased CD4 T cell counts. All five patients had stable or increased immune response to HIV antigens and other pathogens. This was the first evaluation of a lentiviral vector administered in a US human clinical trial.
Leber's congenital amaurosis is an inherited blinding disease caused by mutations in the RPE65 gene. The results of a small clinical trial in children were published in April. Delivery of recombinant adeno-associated virus (AAV) carrying RPE65 yielded positive results. In May two more groups reported positive results in independent clinical trials using gene therapy to treat the condition. In all three clinical trials, patients recovered functional vision without apparent side-effects.
In September researchers were able to give trichromatic vision to squirrel monkeys. In November 2009, researchers halted a fatal genetic disorder called adrenoleukodystrophy in two children using a lentivirus vector to deliver a functioning version of ABCD1, the gene that is mutated in the disorder.
An April paper reported that gene therapy addressed achromatopsia (color blindness) in dogs by targeting cone photoreceptors. Cone function and day vision were restored for at least 33 months in two young specimens. The therapy was less efficient for older dogs.
In September it was announced that an 18-year-old male patient in France with beta-thalassemia major had been successfully treated. Beta-thalassemia major is an inherited blood disease in which beta haemoglobin is missing and patients are dependent on regular lifelong blood transfusions. The technique used a lentiviral vector to transduce the human ß-globin gene into purified blood and marrow cells obtained from the patient in June 2007. The patient's haemoglobin levels were stable at 9 to 10 g/dL. About a third of the hemoglobin contained the form introduced by the viral vector and blood transfusions were not needed. Further clinical trials were planned. Bone marrow transplants are the only cure for thalassemia, but 75% of patients do not find a matching donor.
Cancer immunogene therapy using modified antigene, antisense/triple helix approach was introduced in South America in 2010/11 in La Sabana University, Bogota (Ethical Committee 14 December 2010, no P-004-10). Considering the ethical aspect of gene diagnostic and gene therapy targeting IGF-I, the IGF-I expressing tumors i.e. lung and epidermis cancers were treated (Trojan et al. 2016).
In 2007 and 2008, a man (Timothy Ray Brown) was cured of HIV by repeated hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (see also allogeneic stem cell transplantation, allogeneic bone marrow transplantation, allotransplantation) with double-delta-32 mutation which disables the CCR5 receptor. This cure was accepted by the medical community in 2011. It required complete ablation of existing bone marrow, which is very debilitating.
In August two of three subjects of a pilot study were confirmed to have been cured from chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The therapy used genetically modified T cells to attack cells that expressed the CD19 protein to fight the disease. In 2013, the researchers announced that 26 of 59 patients had achieved complete remission and the original patient had remained tumor-free.
Human HGF plasmid DNA therapy of cardiomyocytes is being examined as a potential treatment for coronary artery disease as well as treatment for the damage that occurs to the heart after myocardial infarction.
In 2011 Neovasculgen was registered in Russia as the first-in-class gene-therapy drug for treatment of peripheral artery disease, including critical limb ischemia; it delivers the gene encoding for VEGF. Neovasculogen is a plasmid encoding the CMV promoter and the 165 amino acid form of VEGF.
In July 2012, the European Medicines Agency recommended approval of a gene therapy treatment for the first time in either Europe or the United States. The treatment used Alipogene tiparvovec (Glybera) to compensate for lipoprotein lipase deficiency, which can cause severe pancreatitis. The recommendation was endorsed by the European Commission in November 2012 and commercial rollout began in late 2014. Alipogene tiparvovec was expected to cost around $1.6 million per treatment in 2012, revised to $1 million in 2015, making it the most expensive medicine in the world at the time. As of 2016, only the patients treated in clinical trials and a patient who paid the full price for treatment have received the drug.
In December 2012, it was reported that 10 of 13 patients with multiple myeloma were in remission "or very close to it" three months after being injected with a treatment involving genetically engineered T cells to target proteins NY-ESO-1 and LAGE-1, which exist only on cancerous myeloma cells.
In March researchers reported that three of five adult subjects who had acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) had been in remission for five months to two years after being treated with genetically modified T cells which attacked cells with CD19 genes on their surface, i.e. all B-cells, cancerous or not. The researchers believed that the patients' immune systems would make normal T-cells and B-cells after a couple of months. They were also given bone marrow. One patient relapsed and died and one died of a blood clot unrelated to the disease.
Following encouraging Phase 1 trials, in April, researchers announced they were starting Phase 2 clinical trials (called CUPID2 and SERCA-LVAD) on 250 patients at several hospitals to combat heart disease. The therapy was designed to increase the levels of SERCA2, a protein in heart muscles, improving muscle function. The FDA granted this a Breakthrough Therapy Designation to accelerate the trial and approval process. In 2016 it was reported that no improvement was found from the CUPID 2 trial.
In July researchers reported promising results for six children with two severe hereditary diseases had been treated with a partially deactivated lentivirus to replace a faulty gene and after 7–32 months. Three of the children had metachromatic leukodystrophy, which causes children to lose cognitive and motor skills. The other children had Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, which leaves them to open to infection, autoimmune diseases, and cancer. Follow up trials with gene therapy on another six children with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome were also reported as promising.
In October researchers reported that two children born with adenosine deaminase severe combined immunodeficiency disease (ADA-SCID) had been treated with genetically engineered stem cells 18 months previously and that their immune systems were showing signs of full recovery. Another three children were making progress. In 2014 a further 18 children with ADA-SCID were cured by gene therapy. ADA-SCID children have no functioning immune system and are sometimes known as "bubble children."
Also in October researchers reported that they had treated six hemophilia sufferers in early 2011 using an adeno-associated virus. Over two years later all six were producing clotting factor.
In January researchers reported that six choroideremia patients had been treated with adeno-associated virus with a copy of REP1. Over a six-month to two-year period all had improved their sight. By 2016, 32 patients had been treated with positive results and researchers were hopeful the treatment would be long-lasting. Choroideremia is an inherited genetic eye disease with no approved treatment, leading to loss of sight.
In March researchers reported that 12 HIV patients had been treated since 2009 in a trial with a genetically engineered virus with a rare mutation (CCR5 deficiency) known to protect against HIV with promising results.
Clinical trials of gene therapy for sickle cell disease were started in 2014. There is a need for high quality randomised controlled trials assessing the risks and benefits involved with gene therapy for people with sickle cell disease.
In February LentiGlobin BB305, a gene therapy treatment undergoing clinical trials for treatment of beta thalassemia gained FDA "breakthrough" status after several patients were able to forgo the frequent blood transfusions usually required to treat the disease.
In March researchers delivered a recombinant gene encoding a broadly neutralizing antibody into monkeys infected with simian HIV; the monkeys' cells produced the antibody, which cleared them of HIV. The technique is named immunoprophylaxis by gene transfer (IGT). Animal tests for antibodies to ebola, malaria, influenza, and hepatitis were underway.
In March, scientists, including an inventor of CRISPR, Jennifer Doudna, urged a worldwide moratorium on germline gene therapy, writing "scientists should avoid even attempting, in lax jurisdictions, germline genome modification for clinical application in humans" until the full implications "are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations".
In October, researchers announced that they had treated a baby girl, Layla Richards, with an experimental treatment using donor T-cells genetically engineered using TALEN to attack cancer cells. One year after the treatment she was still free of her cancer (a highly aggressive form of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia [ALL]). Children with highly aggressive ALL normally have a very poor prognosis and Layla's disease had been regarded as terminal before the treatment.
In December, scientists of major world academies called for a moratorium on inheritable human genome edits, including those related to CRISPR-Cas9 technologies but that basic research including embryo gene editing should continue.
In April the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use of the European Medicines Agency endorsed a gene therapy treatment called Strimvelis and the European Commission approved it in June. This treats children born with adenosine deaminase deficiency and who have no functioning immune system. This was the second gene therapy treatment to be approved in Europe.
In October, Chinese scientists reported they had started a trial to genetically modify T-cells from 10 adult patients with lung cancer and reinject the modified T-cells back into their bodies to attack the cancer cells. The T-cells had the PD-1 protein (which stops or slows the immune response) removed using CRISPR-Cas9.
A 2016 Cochrane systematic review looking at data from four trials on topical cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene therapy does not support its clinical use as a mist inhaled into the lungs to treat cystic fibrosis patients with lung infections. One of the four trials did find weak evidence that liposome-based CFTR gene transfer therapy may lead to a small respiratory improvement for people with CF. This weak evidence is not enough to make a clinical recommendation for routine CFTR gene therapy.
In August, the FDA approved tisagenlecleucel for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Tisagenlecleucel is an adoptive cell transfer therapy for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia; T cells from a person with cancer are removed, genetically engineered to make a specific T-cell receptor (a chimeric T cell receptor, or "CAR-T") that reacts to the cancer, and are administered back to the person. The T cells are engineered to target a protein called CD19 that is common on B cells. This is the first form of gene therapy to be approved in the United States. In October, a similar therapy called axicabtagene ciloleucel was approved for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In December the results of using an adeno-associated virus with blood clotting factor VIII to treat nine haemophilia A patients were published. Six of the seven patients on the high dose regime increased the level of the blood clotting VIII to normal levels. The low and medium dose regimes had no effect on the patient's blood clotting levels.
In December, the FDA approved Luxturna, the first in vivo gene therapy, for the treatment of blindness due to Leber's congenital amaurosis. The price of this treatment was 850,000 US dollars for both eyes.
In February 2019, medical scientists working with Sangamo Therapeutics, headquartered in Richmond, California, announced the first ever "in body" human gene editing therapy to permanently alter DNA - in a patient with Hunter Syndrome. Clinical trials by Sangamo involving gene editing using Zinc Finger Nuclease (ZFN) are ongoing.
Speculated uses for gene therapy include:
Athletes might adopt gene therapy technologies to improve their performance. Gene doping is not known to occur, but multiple gene therapies may have such effects. Kayser et al. argue that gene doping could level the playing field if all athletes receive equal access. Critics claim that any therapeutic intervention for non-therapeutic/enhancement purposes compromises the ethical foundations of medicine and sports.
Genetic engineering could be used to cure diseases, but also to change physical appearance, metabolism, and even improve physical capabilities and mental faculties such as memory and intelligence. Ethical claims about germline engineering include beliefs that every fetus has a right to remain genetically unmodified, that parents hold the right to genetically modify their offspring, and that every child has the right to be born free of preventable diseases. For parents, genetic engineering could be seen as another child enhancement technique to add to diet, exercise, education, training, cosmetics, and plastic surgery. Another theorist claims that moral concerns limit but do not prohibit germline engineering.
Possible regulatory schemes include a complete ban, provision to everyone, or professional self-regulation. The American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs stated that "genetic interventions to enhance traits should be considered permissible only in severely restricted situations: (1) clear and meaningful benefits to the fetus or child; (2) no trade-off with other characteristics or traits; and (3) equal access to the genetic technology, irrespective of income or other socioeconomic characteristics."
As early in the history of biotechnology as 1990, there have been scientists opposed to attempts to modify the human germline using these new tools, and such concerns have continued as technology progressed. With the advent of new techniques like CRISPR, in March 2015 a group of scientists urged a worldwide moratorium on clinical use of gene editing technologies to edit the human genome in a way that can be inherited. In April 2015, researchers sparked controversy when they reported results of basic research to edit the DNA of non-viable human embryos using CRISPR. A committee of the American National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine gave qualified support to human genome editing in 2017 once answers have been found to safety and efficiency problems "but only for serious conditions under stringent oversight."
Regulations covering genetic modification are part of general guidelines about human-involved biomedical research. There are no international treaties which are legally binding in this area, but there are recommendations for national laws from various bodies.
The Helsinki Declaration (Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects) was amended by the World Medical Association's General Assembly in 2008. This document provides principles physicians and researchers must consider when involving humans as research subjects. The Statement on Gene Therapy Research initiated by the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) in 2001 provides a legal baseline for all countries. HUGO’s document emphasizes human freedom and adherence to human rights, and offers recommendations for somatic gene therapy, including the importance of recognizing public concerns about such research.
No federal legislation lays out protocols or restrictions about human genetic engineering. This subject is governed by overlapping regulations from local and federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA and NIH's Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee. Researchers seeking federal funds for an investigational new drug application, (commonly the case for somatic human genetic engineering,) must obey international and federal guidelines for the protection of human subjects.
NIH serves as the main gene therapy regulator for federally funded research. Privately funded research is advised to follow these regulations. NIH provides funding for research that develops or enhances genetic engineering techniques and to evaluate the ethics and quality in current research. The NIH maintains a mandatory registry of human genetic engineering research protocols that includes all federally funded projects.
An NIH advisory committee published a set of guidelines on gene manipulation. The guidelines discuss lab safety as well as human test subjects and various experimental types that involve genetic changes. Several sections specifically pertain to human genetic engineering, including Section III-C-1. This section describes required review processes and other aspects when seeking approval to begin clinical research involving genetic transfer into a human patient. The protocol for a gene therapy clinical trial must be approved by the NIH's Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee prior to any clinical trial beginning; this is different from any other kind of clinical trial.
As with other kinds of drugs, the FDA regulates the quality and safety of gene therapy products and supervises how these products are used clinically. Therapeutic alteration of the human genome falls under the same regulatory requirements as any other medical treatment. Research involving human subjects, such as clinical trials, must be reviewed and approved by the FDA and an Institutional Review Board.
Gene therapy is the basis for the plotline of the film I Am Legend and the TV show Will Gene Therapy Change the Human Race?. In 1994, gene therapy was a plot element in "The Erlenmeyer Flask", the first season finale of The X-Files; it is also used in Stargate as a means of allowing humans to use Ancient technology.
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) is a small virus that infects humans and some other primate species. AAV is not currently known to cause disease. The virus causes a very mild immune response, lending further support to its apparent lack of pathogenicity. In many cases, AAV vectors integrate into the host cell genome, which can be important for certain applications, but can also have unwanted consequences. Gene therapy vectors using AAV can infect both dividing and quiescent cells and persist in an extrachromosomal state without integrating into the genome of the host cell, although in the native virus some integration of virally carried genes into the host genome does occur. These features make AAV a very attractive candidate for creating viral vectors for gene therapy, and for the creation of isogenic human disease models. Recent human clinical trials using AAV for gene therapy in the retina have shown promise.AAV belongs to the genus Dependoparvovirus, which in turn belongs to the family Parvoviridae. The virus is a small (20 nm) replication-defective, nonenveloped virus.Adrenoleukodystrophy
Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) is a disease linked to the X chromosome. It is a result of fatty acid buildup caused by the relevant enzymes not functioning properly, which then causes damage to the myelin sheath of the nerves, resulting in seizures and hyperactivity. Other symptoms include problems with speaking, listening, and understanding verbal instructions.
In more detail, it is a disorder of peroxisomal fatty acid beta oxidation which results in the accumulation of very long chain fatty acids in tissues throughout the body. The most severely affected tissues are the myelin in the central nervous system, the adrenal cortex, and the Leydig cells in the testes. Clinically, ALD is a heterogeneous disorder, presenting with several distinct phenotypes, and no clear pattern of genotype-phenotype correlation. As an X-linked disorder, ALD presents most commonly in males, however approximately 50% of heterozygote females show some symptoms later in life. Approximately two-thirds of ALD patients will present with the childhood cerebral form of the disease, which is the most severe form. It is characterized by normal development in early childhood, followed by rapid degeneration to a vegetative state. The other forms of ALD vary in terms of onset and clinical severity, ranging from adrenal insufficiency to progressive paraparesis in early adulthood (this form of the disease is typically known as adrenomyeloneuropathy).
ALD is caused by mutations in ABCD1, a gene located on the X chromosome that codes for ALD, a peroxisomal membrane transporter protein. The exact mechanism of the pathogenesis of the various forms of ALD is not known. Biochemically, individuals with ALD show very high levels of unbranched, saturated, very long chain fatty acids, particularly cerotic acid (26:0). The level of cerotic acid in plasma does not correlate with clinical presentation. Treatment options for ALD are limited. Dietary treatment is with Lorenzo's oil. For the childhood cerebral form, stem cell transplant and gene therapy are options if the disease is detected early in the clinical course. Adrenal insufficiency in ALD patients can be successfully treated. ALD is the most common peroxisomal inborn error of metabolism, with an incidence estimated between 1:18,000 and 1:50,000. It does not have a significantly higher incidence in any specific ethnic groups.Alipogene tiparvovec
Alipogene tiparvovec (marketed under the trade name Glybera) is a gene therapy treatment designed to reverse lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD), a rare inherited disorder which can cause severe pancreatitis. In July 2012, the European Medicines Agency recommended it for approval (the first recommendation for a gene therapy treatment in either Europe or the United States), and the recommendation was endorsed by the European Commission in November 2012.The drug is administered via a series of injections into the leg muscles—as many as 60, all in one session. It is a one-time treatment intended to last at least ten years.
Glybera gained infamy as the "million-dollar drug," causing its manufacturer, uniQure, to remove the drug after two years on the European market. As of 2018, only 31 people worldwide have ever been administered Glybera, and uniQure has no plans to sell the drug in the US or Canada.Choroideremia
Choroideremia (; CHM) is a rare, X-linked recessive form of hereditary retinal degeneration that affects roughly 1 in 50,000 males. The disease causes a gradual loss of vision, starting with childhood night blindness, followed by peripheral vision loss, and progressing to loss of central vision later in life. Progression continues throughout the individual's life, but both the rate of change and the degree of visual loss are variable among those affected, even within the same family.Choroideremia is caused by a loss-of-function mutation in the CHM gene which encodes Rab escort protein 1 (REP1), a protein involved in lipid modification of Rab proteins. While the complete mechanism of disease is not fully understood, the lack of a functional protein in the retina results in cell death and the gradual deterioration of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), photoreceptors, and the choroid.As of 2018, there is no treatment for choroideremia; however, retinal gene therapy clinical trials have demonstrated a possible treatment.Cystic fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder that affects mostly the lungs, but also the pancreas, liver, kidneys, and intestine. Long-term issues include difficulty breathing and coughing up mucus as a result of frequent lung infections. Other signs and symptoms may include sinus infections, poor growth, fatty stool, clubbing of the fingers and toes, and infertility in most males. Different people may have different degrees of symptoms.CF is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. It is caused by the presence of mutations in both copies of the gene for the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein. Those with a single working copy are carriers and otherwise mostly normal. CFTR is involved in production of sweat, digestive fluids, and mucus. When the CFTR is not functional, secretions which are usually thin instead become thick. The condition is diagnosed by a sweat test and genetic testing. Screening of infants at birth takes place in some areas of the world.There is no known cure for cystic fibrosis. Lung infections are treated with antibiotics which may be given intravenously, inhaled, or by mouth. Sometimes, the antibiotic azithromycin is used long term. Inhaled hypertonic saline and salbutamol may also be useful. Lung transplantation may be an option if lung function continues to worsen. Pancreatic enzyme replacement and fat-soluble vitamin supplementation are important, especially in the young. Airway clearance techniques such as chest physiotherapy have some short-term benefit, but long-term effects are unclear. The average life expectancy is between 42 and 50 years in the developed world. Lung problems are responsible for death in 80% of people with cystic fibrosis.CF is most common among people of Northern European ancestry and affects about one out of every 3,000 newborns. About one in 25 people is a carrier. It is least common in Africans and Asians. It was first recognized as a specific disease by Dorothy Andersen in 1938, with descriptions that fit the condition occurring at least as far back as 1595. The name "cystic fibrosis" refers to the characteristic fibrosis and cysts that form within the pancreas.Designer baby
A designer baby is a human embryo which has been genetically modified, usually following guidelines set by the parent or scientist, to produce desirable traits. This is done using various methods, such as germline engineering or preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This technology is the subject of ethical debate, bringing up the concept of genetically modified "superhumans" to interbreed with and eventually replace modern humans.Duchenne muscular dystrophy
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a severe type of muscular dystrophy. The symptom of muscle weakness usually begins around the age of four in boys and worsens quickly. Typically muscle loss occurs first in the upper legs and pelvis followed by those of the upper arms. This can result in trouble standing up. Most are unable to walk by the age of 12. Affected muscles may look larger due to increased fat content. Scoliosis is also common. Some may have intellectual disability. Females with a single copy of the defective gene may show mild symptoms.The disorder is X-linked recessive. About two thirds of cases are inherited from a person's mother, while one third of cases are due to a new mutation. It is caused by a mutation in the gene for the protein dystrophin. Dystrophin is important to maintain the muscle fiber's cell membrane. Genetic testing can often make the diagnosis at birth. Those affected also have a high level of creatine kinase in their blood.Although there is no known cure, physical therapy, braces, and corrective surgery may help with some symptoms. Assisted ventilation may be required in those with weakness of breathing muscles. Medications used include steroids to slow muscle degeneration, anticonvulsants to control seizures and some muscle activity, and immunosuppressants to delay damage to dying muscle cells.DMD affects about one in 5,000 males at birth. It is the most common type of muscular dystrophy. The average life expectancy is 26; however, with excellent care, some may live into their 30s or 40s. Gene therapy, as a treatment, is in the early stages of study in humans.Epidermolytic hyperkeratosis
Epidermolytic ichthyosis (EI), (also known as "Bullous Epidermis Ichthyosis (BEI)", epidermolytic hyperkeratosis (EHK)", "bullous congenital ichthyosiform erythroderma (BCIE), bullous ichthyosiform erythroderma, or bullous congenital ichthyosiform erythroderma Brocq) is a rare and severe form of ichthyosis this skin disease affects around 1 in 300,000 people.
It involves the clumping of keratin filaments.Gene doping
Gene doping is the hypothetical non-therapeutic use of gene therapy by athletes in order to improve their performance in those sporting events which prohibit such applications of genetic modification technology, and for reasons other than the treatment of disease. As of April 2015, there is no evidence that gene doping has been used for athletic performance-enhancement in any sporting events. Gene doping would involve the use of gene transfer to increase or decrease gene expression and protein biosynthesis of a specific human protein; this could be done by directly injecting the gene carrier into the person, or by taking cells from the person, transfecting the cells, and administering the cells back to the person.The historical development of interest in gene doping by athletes and concern about the risks of gene doping and how to detect it moved in parallel with the development of the field of gene therapy, especially with the publication in 1998 of work on a transgenic mouse overexpressing insulin-like growth factor 1 that was much stronger than normal mice, even in old age, preclinical studies published in 2002 of a way to deliver erythropoietin (EPO) via gene therapy, and publication in 2004 of the creation of a "marathon mouse" with much greater endurance than normal mice, created by delivering the gene expressing PPAR gamma to the mice. The scientists generating these publications were all contacted directly by athletes and coaches seeking access to the technology. The public became aware of that activity in 2006 when such efforts were part of the evidence presented in the trial of a German coach.
Scientists themselves, as well as bodies including the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the International Olympic Committee, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, started discussing the risk of gene doping in 2001, and by 2003 WADA had added gene doping to the list of banned doping practices, and shortly thereafter began funding research on methods to detect gene doping.
Genetic enhancement includes manipulation of genes or gene transfer by healthy athletes for the purpose of physically improving their performance. Genetic enhancement includes gene doping and has potential for abuse among athletes, all while opening the door to political and ethical controversy.Genetically modified virus
A genetically modified virus is a virus that has gone through genetic modification for various biomedical purposes, agricultural purposes, bio-control and technological purposes. Genetic modification involves the insertion or deletion of genes to improve organisms and is usually obtained with biotechnology.Haemophilia
Haemophilia is a mostly inherited genetic disorder that impairs the body's ability to make blood clots, a process needed to stop bleeding. This results in people bleeding longer after an injury, easy bruising, and an increased risk of bleeding inside joints or the brain. Those with a mild case of the disease may have symptoms only after an accident or during surgery. Bleeding into a joint can result in permanent damage while bleeding in the brain can result in long term headaches, seizures, or a decreased level of consciousness.There are two main types of haemophilia: haemophilia A, which occurs due to not enough clotting factor VIII, and haemophilia B, which occurs due to not enough clotting factor IX. They are typically inherited from one's parents through an X chromosome with a nonfunctional gene. Rarely a new mutation may occur during early development or haemophilia may develop later in life due to antibodies forming against a clotting factor. Other types include haemophilia C, which occurs due to not enough factor XI, and parahaemophilia, which occurs due to not enough factor V. Acquired haemophilia is associated with cancers, autoimmune disorders, and pregnancy. Diagnosis is by testing the blood for its ability to clot and its levels of clotting factors.Prevention may occur by removing an egg, fertilizing it, and testing the embryo before transferring it to the uterus. Treatment is by replacing the missing blood clotting factors. This may be done on a regular basis or during bleeding episodes. Replacement may take place at home or in hospital. The clotting factors are made either from human blood or by recombinant methods. Up to 20% of people develop antibodies to the clotting factors which makes treatment more difficult. The medication desmopressin may be used in those with mild haemophilia A. Studies of gene therapy are in early human trials.Haemophilia A affects about 1 in 5,000–10,000, while haemophilia B affects about 1 in 40,000, males at birth. As haemophilia A and B are both X-linked recessive disorders, females are rarely severely affected. Some females with a nonfunctional gene on one of the X chromosomes may be mildly symptomatic. Haemophilia C occurs equally in both sexes and is mostly found in Ashkenazi Jews. In the 1800s haemophilia was common within the royal families of Europe. The difference between haemophilia A and B was determined in 1952. The word is from the Greek haima αἷμα meaning blood and philia φιλία meaning love.Jesse Gelsinger
Jesse Gelsinger (June 18, 1981 – September 17, 1999) was the first person publicly identified as having died in a clinical trial for gene therapy. Gelsinger suffered from ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency, an X-linked genetic disease of the liver, the symptoms of which include an inability to metabolize ammonia – a byproduct of protein breakdown. The disease is usually fatal at birth, but Gelsinger had a milder form of the disease, in which the ornithine transcarbamylase gene is mutated in only part of the patient's cells, a condition known as somatic mosaicism. As his deficiency was partial, Gelsinger managed to survive on a restricted diet and special medications.
Gelsinger joined a clinical trial run by the University of Pennsylvania that aimed at developing a treatment for infants born with the severe form of the disease. On September 13, 1999, Gelsinger was injected with an adenoviral vector carrying a corrected gene to test the safety of the procedure. He died four days later at the age of 18, on September 17 at 2:30 pm, apparently having suffered a massive immune response triggered by the use of the viral vector to transport the gene into his cells, leading to multiple organ failure and brain death.A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation concluded that the scientists involved in the trial, including the co-investigator Dr. James M. Wilson (Director of the Institute for Human Gene Therapy), broke several rules of conduct:
Inclusion of Gelsinger as a substitute for another volunteer who dropped out, despite Gelsinger's having high ammonia levels that should have led to his exclusion from the trial.
Failure by the university to report that two patients had experienced serious side effects from the gene therapy.
Failure to disclose, in the informed-consent documentation, the deaths of monkeys given a similar treatment.The University of Pennsylvania later issued a rebuttal, but the university and Children's National Medical Center each agreed to pay more than $500,000 to the government. Both Wilson and the University are reported to have had financial stakes in the research. The Gelsinger case was a severe setback for scientists working in the field.Leber's congenital amaurosis
Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA) is a rare inherited eye disease that appears at birth or in the first few months of life.One form of LCA was successfully treated with gene therapy in 2008.It affects about 1 in 40,000 newborns. LCA was first described by Theodor Leber in the 19th century. It should not be confused with Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, which is a different disease also described by Theodor Leber.Molecular genetics
Molecular genetics is the field of biology that studies the structure and function of genes at a molecular level and thus employs methods of both molecular biology and genetics. The study of chromosomes and gene expression of an organism can give insight into heredity, genetic variation, and mutations. This is useful in the study of developmental biology and in understanding and treating genetic diseases.Sickle cell disease
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of blood disorders typically inherited from a person's parents. The most common type is known as sickle cell anaemia (SCA). It results in an abnormality in the oxygen-carrying protein haemoglobin found in red blood cells. This leads to a rigid, sickle-like shape under certain circumstances. Problems in sickle cell disease typically begin around 5 to 6 months of age. A number of health problems may develop, such as attacks of pain ("sickle cell crisis"), anemia, swelling in the hands and feet, bacterial infections and stroke. Long-term pain may develop as people get older. The average life expectancy in the developed world is 40 to 60 years.Sickle cell disease occurs when a person inherits two abnormal copies of the haemoglobin gene, one from each parent. This gene occurs in chromosome 11. Several subtypes exist, depending on the exact mutation in each haemoglobin gene. An attack can be set off by temperature changes, stress, dehydration and high altitude. A person with a single abnormal copy does not usually have symptoms and is said to have sickle cell trait. Such people are also referred to as carriers. Diagnosis is by a blood test, and some countries test all babies at birth for the disease. Diagnosis is also possible during pregnancy.The care of people with sickle cell disease may include infection prevention with vaccination and antibiotics, high fluid intake, folic acid supplementation and pain medication. Other measures may include blood transfusion and the medication hydroxycarbamide (hydroxyurea). A small percentage of people can be cured by a transplant of bone marrow cells.As of 2015, about 4.4 million people have sickle cell disease, while an additional 43 million have sickle cell trait. About 80% of sickle cell disease cases are believed to occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. It also occurs relatively frequently in parts of India, the Arabian Peninsula and among people of African origin living in other parts of the world. In 2015, it resulted in about 114,800 deaths. The condition was first described in the medical literature by the American physician James B. Herrick in 1910. In 1949, the genetic transmission was determined by E. A. Beet and J. V. Neel. In 1954, the protective effect against malaria of sickle cell trait was described.Suicide gene
A suicide gene, in genetics, will cause a cell to kill itself through apoptosis. Activation of these genes can be due to many processes, but the main cellular "switch" to induce apoptosis is the p53 protein. Stimulation or introduction (through gene therapy) of suicide genes is a potential way of treating cancer or other proliferative diseases. Suicide genes form the basis of a strategy for making cancer cells more vulnerable, more sensitive to chemotherapy. The approach has been to attach parts of genes expressed in cancer cells to other genes for enzymes not found in mammals that can convert a harmless substance into one that is toxic to the tumor. Most suicide genes mediate this sensitivity by coding for viral or bacterial enzymes that convert an inactive drug into toxic antimetabolites that inhibit the synthesis of nucleic acid. Suicide genes must be introduced into the cells in ways that ensure their uptake and expression by as many cancer cells as possible, while limiting their expression by normal cells. Suicide gene therapy for cancer requires the vector to have the capacity to discriminate between target and non target cells, between the cancer cells and normal cells.The ultimate goal of cancer therapy is the complete elimination of all cancer cells, while leaving all healthy cells unharmed. One of the most promising therapeutic strategies in this regard is cancer suicide gene therapy (CSGT), which is rapidly progressing into new frontiers.The therapeutic success, in CSGT, is primarily contingent upon precision in delivery of the therapeutic transgenes to the cancer cells only. This is addressed by discovering and targeting unique or / and over-expressed biomarkers displayed on the cancer cells and cancer stem cells. Specificity of cancer therapeutic effects is further enhanced by designing the DNA constructs, which put the therapeutic genes under the control of the cancer cell specific promoters. The delivery of the suicidal genes to the cancer cells involves viral, as well as synthetic vectors, which are guided by cancer specific antibodies and ligands. The delivery options also include engineered stem cells with tropisms towards cancers. Main mechanisms inducing cancer cells' deaths include: transgenic expression of thymidine kinases, cytosine deaminases, intracellular antibodies, telomeraseses, caspases, DNases. Precautions are undertaken to eliminate the risks associated with transgenesis. Progress in genomics and proteomics should help us in identifying the cancer specific biomarkers and metabolic pathways for developing new strategies towards clinical trials of targeted and personalized gene therapy of cancer.By introducing the gene into a malignant tumor, the tumor would reduce in size and possibly disappear completely, provided all the individual cells have received a copy of the gene.
When the DNA sample in the virus is taken from the patient's own healthy cells, the virus does not need to be able to differentiate between cancer cells and healthy ones. In addition, the advantage is that it is also able to prevent metastasis upon the death of a tumor.
Suicide genes are often utilized in biotechnology to assist in molecular cloning. Vectors incorporate suicide genes for an organism (such as E. coli). The cloning project focuses on replacing the suicide gene by the desired fragment. Selection of vectors carrying the desired fragment is improved since vectors retaining the suicide gene result in cell death.Viral vector
Viral vectors are tools commonly used by molecular biologists to deliver genetic material into cells. This process can be performed inside a living organism (in vivo) or in cell culture (in vitro). Viruses have evolved specialized molecular mechanisms to efficiently transport their genomes inside the cells they infect. Delivery of genes, or other genetic material, by a vector is termed transduction and the infected cells are described as transduced. Molecular biologists first harnessed this machinery in the 1970s. Paul Berg used a modified SV40 virus containing DNA from the bacteriophage λ to infect monkey kidney cells maintained in culture.In addition to their use in molecular biology research, viral vectors are used for gene therapy and the development of vaccines.Virotherapy
Virotherapy is a treatment using biotechnology to convert viruses into therapeutic agents by reprogramming viruses to treat diseases. There are three main branches of virotherapy: anti-cancer oncolytic viruses, viral vectors for gene therapy and viral immunotherapy. These branches utilize three different types of treatment methods: gene overexpression, gene knockout, and suicide gene delivery. Gene overexpression adds genetic sequences that compensate for low to zero levels of needed gene expression. Gene knockout utilizes RNA methods to silence or reduce expression of disease-causing genes. Suicide gene delivery introduces genetic sequences that induce an apoptotic response in cells, usually to kill cancerous growths. In a slightly different context, virotherapy can also refer more broadly to the use of viruses to treat certain medical conditions by killing pathogens.Wiskott–Aldrich syndrome
Wiskott–Aldrich syndrome (WAS) is a rare X-linked recessive disease characterized by eczema, thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), immune deficiency, and bloody diarrhea (secondary to the thrombocytopenia). It is also sometimes called the eczema-thrombocytopenia-immunodeficiency syndrome in keeping with Aldrich's original description in 1954. The WAS-related disorders of X-linked thrombocytopenia (XLT) and X-linked congenital neutropenia (XLN) may present similar but less severe symptoms and are caused by mutations of the same gene.