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The dangers and concerns of gene therapy.

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Introduction

The dangers and concerns of gene therapy Many diseases are genetically determined; for example, cystic fibrosis (CF). Others are influenced by genes, but involve additional factors as well; for example, cancer and diabetes mellitus. Recent scientific developments make it possible to target such genetically related diseases using gene therapy. Gene therapy is transferring the normal allele into to the cells to produce the correct proteins that the mutated allele does not. Under UK legislation altering genes of somatic cells (body cells) to treat a disease in an individual is permitted. This is done mainly in two ways. For example, treating cystic fibrosis can be done using liposomes, the normal cystic fibrosis transmembrane regulatory protein allele can be transferred into lung epithelial cells as follows. 1) A normal allele is inserted into a loop of DNA which is called a plasmid 2) The plasmids are combined with liposomes (spherical phospholipid bilayers) to form a liposome - DNA complex 3) The complexes are breathed into the lugs using a nebuliser. Inside the lungs the liposomes fuse with the cell membrane 4) ...read more.

Middle

This virus can then enter CF human cells and instruct them to make normal CFTR proteins. Since AAV-CFTR does not contain the main virus genes, it is unlikely to produce an immune response and is also more long term than using liposomes. Public debate over the ethics of using gene technology to treat human beings raged long before the technology became available for gene therapy. The prospect of altering genes brings forward questions about "playing God." One of the early concerns was that genetic material used to treat somatic cells would find its way into sperm and ova, thus affecting offspring of the patient. By careful selection and targeting cells, however, spread of genetic material to germ cells has not occurred. Gene therapy has not yet had the success anticipated by many scientists: effectiveness of treatment for most diseases has been disappointing, though it has been encouraging for some. Many people think that somatic cell therapy will lead to altering germ cells (gametes) so that every cell in the body contains the new allele. Germ-line therapy is much more technically difficult. ...read more.

Conclusion

Those who consider it wrong to destroy a pre-embryo have a stronger reason to pursue gene therapy, however, these same people would probably also criticize researching on embryos to perfect the techniques of the therapy, and object to the IVF procedure, so would be unlikely to use gene therapy anyway. This raises the question of why research in germ-line gene therapy should be pursued at all. It is believed that it would open the doors for attempts to alter human traits not associated with disease such as altering the gene pool for good by the enhancement or modification of human capabilities, thus increasing the standards of a normal human being. For example, some extremists believe that superior humans will be produced who will reduce normal humans to menial servitude. These things would be most easily available to the rich as gene therapy is expensive, so would increase the problems of class distinctions. Also it would be only those in developed countries that could afford it, so the gap between the developed and the developing would become even greater. Another concern is that the important functions may accidentally or unknowingly be altered, which could lead to a decrease in species fitness. Also, germ-line modification may effect evolution and threaten future generations as well. ...read more.

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