The genetic approach
The recent unravelling of the human genome, as
well as that of dozens of pathogenic micro-organisms, has already
helped to identify many genes associated with disease. A better
understanding of how genes work raises hopes for radically new medical
treatments in the future.
Gene therapy research focuses on the introduction of genes to repair
cellular malfunction. For instance, viruses are used as carriers
for introducing anticancer genes into tumour cells, as a first step
towards developing gene-based treatments.
Cell therapies utilise the inherent power of the cells themselves
mainly undifferentiated stem cells which can perform
different functions when they eventually develop into specialised
types, replacing defective cells or regenerating damaged tissue.
Muscular disorders of genetic origin
By means of a three-year project currently
under way, it is hoped to gain a better understanding of genetic
diseases of the muscles, many of which can prove fatal.
Cell therapy: cells from the umbilical cord
might prove useful in the treatment of leukaemia
Blood cells taken at birth from the umbilical
cord contain undifferentiated stem cells. These are stored
in special blood banks worldwide, to be used later for treatment
of blood disorders such as leukemia. In one study, the ability
of these cells was examined to treat a large variety of diseases,
including infectious and genetic ones.
Gene therapy: certain viruses may be used
to introduce anticancer genes into living cells
A new technique is being developed using
parvoviruses as carriers to introduce anticancer genes into
tumour cells. Tests in mice have shown tumour formation down
by 90%. It is hoped there could be similar success in humans.