Gene Therapy ? Part 1
Introduction and Mesothelioma
The best way to begin this paper is to identify exactly what genes and gene therapy are. Genes are biological units of heredity. Genes determine obvious traits, like the color of your hair or eyes, and also characteristics that aren’t so obvious, such as your blood’s ability to carry oxygen through the body. They are what make us, us. Genes make us who we are, each made up in our own unique way. Genes carry the directions that allow cells to produce certain proteins called enzymes. Genes, when they have flaws, can result in disease in the body (National Cancer Institute, 2000).
The next major point that need to be clarified is gene therapy, what exactly is it, its goals, and how important is it both today, and for the future. Gene therapy is a process of manipulating a person’s genetic makeup to fight a disease they may have as a result of a genetic flaw. In a short explanation, the genes of a person are altered and inserted again into the body, in the hopes that those genes will multiply, then outnumber and destroy the defective genes, therefore defeating or significantly delaying the spreading and destruction of a disease (National Cancer Institute, 2000).
This is still experimental treatment for all diseases, and it is most frequently tested on different forms of cancer, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, and Retinitis Pigmentosa. There is a hopeful outlook for the future of this type of treatment, but many more trials and tests must be performed. While it could be a revolutionary type of treatment, its effectiveness is still quite unknown (University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center, 1996).
Gene therapy is often tested as a possible treatment for Mesothelioma, a deadly cancer. This type of cancer is considered to be uniformly fatal; according to records of the disease, patients have less than two years to live after the diagnosis of this cancer, and needless to say, this is with standard treatment. This cancer is frequently linked to asbestos exposure; asbestos was most likely prevalent in a previous work environment. Initial experiments focused on pleural mesothelioma, a type of chest tumor that affects the lining of the chest and is very strongly linked to asbestos exposure. The cancer barely, if at all, responded to radical surgery and chemotherapy treatment (University of Penn, 1995).
Doctors and scientists are desperately seeking for a cure to this disease, it is very hard to treat and produce any type of result. In 1990, gene therapy treatments for this cancer first took place on laboratory mice. The majority of results from animal testing were positive, in which the disease was either cured or slowed down quite a bit. Due to these positive results, scientists were eager to begin testing humans, yet found out that it was not so easy with human beings. Things did not happen as expected, such as the body of the patient would not produce enough of the altered gene or just did not respond at all. (Drake, 1997)
Donald Hardy was the first mesothelioma patient in the world to be treated with gene therapy. While Mesothelioma defied all forms of conventional treatment and led to a quick death, it was different with this experiment. Hardy’s cancer had become mysteriously quiescent; the cancer had stopped growing inside his body. Hardy had to follow up with constant trips to the doctor to be tested to see if the cancer started to grow again. There was always an element of uncertainty in the treatment. While Hardy’s cancer didn’t return, he was one of a small number of patients with a successful result in the experimentation. A possible explanation was that the treatment caused an inflammatory reaction that stopped the cancer cells from growing, at least temporarily (Drake, 1997).
Hopefully, gene therapy is a field that will change our medical field and how we treat diseases. While seemingly an easy concept, it has presented our best doctors and scientists with a huge question mark, which we as a society can only hope gives us a more possibilities of treatment for the diseases we can not get rid of now.