Magazine article Science News

Gene Therapists Told to Do Homework

Magazine article Science News

Gene Therapists Told to Do Homework

Article excerpt

Gene therapists told to do more homework

In their initial request to a National Institutes of Health subcommittee last week, federal researchers failed to win permission to perform the first U.S. gene therapy experiments in humans.

Few scientists expected instant approval of the proposal, which calls for injecting therapeutic, gene-altered cells into children with a life-threatening immune deficiency. But the degree of skepticism expressed by members of the Human Gene Therapy Subcommittee suggests the experiments may not occur anytime soon.

At the same meeting, however, some of the same researchers proposing the gene therapy work received permission to infuse cells bearing nontherapeutic genetic alterations into an expanded number of patients with malignant melanoma. Those experiments, already performed on seven patients, are designed to help reveal how the body normally defends itself against cancer (SN: 9/23/89, p. 197). With the added information from an expanded study group, the scientists may be ready this summer to adapt the procedure to include a cancer-fighting substance called tumor necrosis factor, says NIH researcher W. French Anderson. Anderson developed the melanoma protocol with NIH colleagues Steven Rosenberg and R. Michael Blaese.

Such a step would represent the first U.S.-approved administration of genetically engineered cells to treat a human disease. But Blaese and Anderson have long had their sights on another disease as the first they'd like to cure using gene therapy techniques. …

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