Gene therapy helps two Germans in global first
Apr 3, 2006 - 2:37:37 PM

For the first time, gene therapy has been used to alter the cells of sick adults and allow them greater resistance to bacteria and fungi, a Germany-based team of scientists said.

The research was described in the online version of the journal Nature Medicine. The cutting-edge techniques have mainly been used in the past to help sick children.

Dorothee von Laer, gene therapy coordinator at the Georg Speyer laboratory in Frankfurt, said two adult males aged 25 and 26 had been treated for a hereditary autoimmune disease over the past two years at Frankfurt University Hospital.

She said the new technique might prove suitable for other diseases where people are born with a defective gene.

The team of 27 scientists was able to raise above 50 percent the proportion of healthy immune cells in the men's blood, leading to a lessening of infection and avoiding serious new infections.

The rare condition the two men suffer from is termed chronic granulomatous disease - their bodies cannot kill invading bacteria and fungi and they often have internal infections. Currently the disease is treated using bone-marrow transplants.

The scientists took blood stem cells from the men and introduced a healthy gene to the cells. The cells were then re-injected into the men. The key to the technique was a new, more efficient method of inserting the genes in many cells at the same time.

Concern remains that such therapy could have a negative side effect: causing cancer of the blood. Research is continuing on how to make such techniques safer.

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