Not too long ago, gene therapy would have sounded like something out of science fiction. But it’s a process that’s rapidly becoming viable to treat a huge range of conditions. The potential successful gene therapy holds means it could unlock a whole new chapter in modern medicine.
What is gene therapy?
Gene therapy uses nucleic acid as a drug to treat disease by introducing it into a patient’s cells. The first attempt to modify human DNA took place almost four decades ago but the first successful nuclear gene transfer in humans didn’t occur until nine years later in 1989, while the first therapeutic use of gene transfer and the first direct insertion of human DNA into the nuclear genome occurred just a year later. It led to a boom in the research being conducted into gene therapy, with over 2,300 clinical trials taking place over the last 25 years.
Gene therapy is designed to compensate for abnormal genes, giving it plenty of scope to treat and cure a range of different conditions. As with all new medical developments, gene therapy has encountered obstacles along the way, but it could be about to take centre stage.
So, what can gene therapy do?
As gene therapy introduces altercations to a patient’s genetic make-up, it’s potential has been linked to a vast array of results, among them:
- Genetic engineering – Gene therapy could hold the key to eradicating diseases that we’re born with through being conducted on each foetus, but it can also prevent or cure those that occur later in life. While genetic engineering can tackle disease, in theory, it can also be used to alter other areas in a foetus, such as appearance, intelligence, and memory, making it a highly debated ethical topic.
- Cancer treatment – A cure or improved treatment for cancer is being explored from multiple avenues, including gene therapy. Gene therapy aims to improve the body’s ability to recognise and attack cancerous cells, enhancing the patient’s natural abilities through adding genes to their immune system.
- Tackle infertility – Were patients suffer from infertility, early stage research indicated that gene therapy could be used to re-establish fertility. The trials have yet to be approved for humans, but the early results suggest it could be a promising route for researchers to continue exploring.