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What is Adenovirus Gene Therapy?

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  • Written By: Christina Whyte
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Adenovirus gene therapy is a scientific technique which is used to treat genetic disorders. It works by replacing or supplementing abnormal genetic material with normal genetic material. This technique is still in development, and there are a number of challenges to overcome as well as ethical issues to address before it can be widely used.

Adenoviruses are the type of virus that gives people respiratory, intestinal, and eye infections. The most well known adenovirus is the common cold. These viruses are usually transmitted via airborne particles, such as from a sneeze or cough, but in adenovirus gene therapy they are more specifically targeted. This is usually done by injecting a person with the virus or combining the virus with the person's cells in the lab and then re-introducing the cells to the person.

Viruses are used in gene therapy because they have evolved to deliver their genetic material to living cells efficiently and quickly. Gene therapy takes advantage of this fact and uses viruses that ordinarily give people infections to give them normal genetic material instead. This is done by genetically engineering the virus to remove its natural genetic material and replace it with something else. The adenovirus is used as the vector, also called the carrier, in adenovirus gene therapy, but other viruses, such as retroviruses and the herpes simplex virus, are also used for gene therapy.

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Adenovirus gene therapy as well as other types of gene therapy is still an experimental technique, and a lot of research and development is yet to be done before it can be a common treatment for diseases and genetic disorders. Scientists are still working on targeting specific cells with adenovirus gene therapy and creating long-term results. The body's own defenses can cause problems in treatment if the immune system attacks the adenovirus and renders it ineffective or overreacts to the point of causing dangerous inflammation. Disorders caused by a single gene are the best candidates for gene therapy because targeting multiple genes is much more complicated and difficult.

It is not yet known for sure if adenovirus gene therapy will be a safe treatment for the general population or what health risks it might carry. There are ethical issues surrounding this treatment as well, including the matter of who decides what genes are considered normal or abnormal, and whether all disabilities and disorders need to be cured and prevented. Gene therapy is also currently very expensive, which raises the issue of differential access to treatment based on income. This research is carefully regulated to ensure that it is done safely.

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