Even though gene therapy is in its initial stages of implementation, it continues to show promise in the health innovations of the future. It prevents diseases from occurring by altering the disease-causing genes by “repairing” them.
Gene therapy is undoubtedly an unripe process of altering genes, but once it’s ripe for the picking, it could improve the lives of many through gene repairs.
Although past research seems conclusive, more research is needed to refine the procedure of this type of therapy.
Once researchers master the method of gene therapy, this could change all the current treatments the medicine industry has to offer.
Here are four ways gene therapy may improve human health in the future.
Improve DNA by Targeting Faulty Genes
We know that DNA is the building blocks needed for protein synthesis. Unfortunately, there are unexpected variations of DNA that lead to mutations. Most are harmless because our bodies have a natural way of restoring balance inside, but this may lead to worse health conditions.
Using gene therapy, we may be able to repair the damaged, or mutated genes by filling in the gaps between the genes.
Researchers isolate your normal DNA and transform it into a vector, which is practically a delivery truck composed of viral DNA sequences. Don’t to worry! These Viral sequences have been successfully used in human trials. Using the vector, scientists infect the damaged DNA inside a target cell and restore it to its healthy state. This can also be used to reprogram some damaged DNA such as cancer causing mutations.
Up to this day, researchers are improving and optimizing the viral vectors and developing non-viral vectors for future use with fewer side effects.
With this type of therapy, doctors could be able to cure thousands of diseases caused by gene disorders. Cancer, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are among the diseases caused by gene mutations. Over 4,000 diseases are linked to gene disorders.
Regarding hemophilia or cystic fibrosis, these diseases were caused by single gene mutations; however, other diseases such as hypertension are caused by specific genetic variations. Through more research, scientists may be able to create cures for these genetic changes.
Successful Gene Therapy
Gene therapy is showing the most promise in curing single gene defects. In 1990, researchers from the National Institutes of Health conducted the first successful experiment. Here they treated a four-year-old with ADA (adenosine deaminase) deficiency. Children with this condition are born with damaged immune systems and are prone to multiple infections.
After the 1990s, there have been more human clinical trials for severe diseases such as SCID, Canavan’s disease, Gaucher’s disease and cystic fibrosis. The only disease cured by gene therapy, so far, is SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency disease) because of it having a single gene defect.
More research needs to be conducted on conditions with multiple gene variations, to increase the success rate of this type of treatment.
Somatic Gene Alterations
The most common consideration is, do your offspring receive the altered genes? Thankfully, the answer is no, because gene therapy targets somatic (body) cells and not germ (reproductive) cells. All the current gene therapy experiments and treatments are all currently somatic, so it’ll have no effect whatsoever on the offspring.
Society may not be ready for gene therapy yet, because of its comprehensive procedure and ethical issues. Since you’ll be altering the genetic code of a patient, some experts would call it “playing God.”
More research is indeed needed to find the safest and most ethical procedure for gene therapy. It may be, in fact, playing God, but it may also be the best way to combat cancer and other gene-related diseases.