DNA Day experts answer your questions about gene therapy

Above: Image © luismmolina, iStockphoto.com

What is your knowledge about Genetic Therapy? Do you think it is a useful thing for our World to have now?

I am a plant geneticist and the ethics that apply in the plant world are different from those that apply in the human world. If genetic therapy corrects a defective gene in an individual to make it equivalent to a gene that already exist,than it is curative and it is not different from medication. Genetic therapy must be defined clearly by the medical community because it can be expanded.

- Answer provided by Dr. Sylvie Cloutier

What role can viruses play in gene therapy? Which characteristics of viruses make them good candidates for this role?

Some viruses show strong potential for therapy, including gene therapy, as they have displayed a preference for infecting tumor cells and not our normal cells. One example of this is reovirus, which is an area of intense research here at the University of Calgary. These viruses kill tumor cells, leaving normal cells alone. The precise characteristics that give them this ability, is still being studied.

- Answer provided by Dr. Aaron Goodarzi

Could you give us an example of a successful use of gene therapy?

Well, there was a successful treatment of a blind dog. In gene therapy, the healthy gene is delivered by a particle similar to a virus. Getting it to go where you want, without having the body react to it, are still challenges. Because the eye is an easily accessed, and relatively isolated body part, it is nice place to begin this type of work. There are human trials ongoing for a number of different diseases, with hopefully more success stories to come.

- Answer provided by Dr. Karen Bedard

How effective is gene therapy?

I think we're going to know the answer to that a lot better in, say, ten years than we do now. In situations where a single gene is responsible for a medical condition, gene therapy might work really well. But in others, where there are several genes, and those genes interact with others and you have a very complicated situation, it's not going to be as helpful .... So I'd say that gene therapy will be a great treatment in some cases, but by no means all.

- Answer provided by Jay Ingram

Why do people have problems with gene therapy?

Gene therapy remains very experimental. One aspect of the controversy is that the maniplation could theoretically be done on 'germline' i.e. those involved in reproduction,and that pass down traits. At this point in time the consensus is to NOT intervene on such cells, but rather on those others, referred to as somatic cells. Yet, experiments to intervene on the somatic cells, and to try and correct gene defects causing diseases, so far have not been very successful. There are some modest successes, but overall many concerns that this remains risky as the underling science is still very rudimentary, and the ability to control the effect of such intervention is not very advanced yet.

- Answer provided by Karine Morin

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