The Future of Cancer Treatment: Gene Therapy
By Yul Leshem and Angel Tang
Gene therapy has rapidly become one of the most promising medical developments of our time! It is a medical field that focuses on utilizing the therapeutic delivery of nucleic acids into a patient’s cells as a drug to treat disease. In simpler words, gene therapy replaces a faulty gene or adds a new gene to cure disease or improve the body’s ability to fight the disease. Gene therapy holds promise to treat many diseases such as but not excluding: cancer, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, diabetes, hemophilia, and AIDS.
During the process of gene therapy, researchers introduce an outsider gene directly into cancer cells or into surrounding tissue. The goal is that the newly inserted gene will cause the cancer cells to die or prevent cancer cells and surrounding tissue from funneling blood to tumors, depriving them of nutrients they need for survival. Basically gene therapy is designed to introduce genetic material into cells to compensate for abnormal genes or to make a beneficial protein. If a mutated gene causes a necessary protein to be faulty or missing, gene therapy may be able to introduce a normal copy of the gene to restore the function of the protein.
There are two different types of gene therapy depending on which types of cells are targeted.
Somatic gene therapy which is when there is the transfer of a section of DNA to any cell of the body that doesn’t produce sperm or eggs. Effects of gene therapy will not be passed onto the patient’s children. The second one, Germline gene therapy is when there is a transfer of a section of DNA to cells that produce eggs or sperm. Effects of gene therapy will be passed onto the patient’s children and subsequent generations.
Gene therapy is considered a better alternative to other cancer treatments for multiple reasons. Gene therapy has the potential for a one-time dosage instead of a continued one, used in chemotherapy. It could also provide higher specificity compared to traditional chemotherapy. Cancer is a genetic disease meaning that it occurs when new and incessant growth occurs, and gene therapy could fix those malfunctioning genes; compared to chemotherapy, which stops or slows the growth instead-but hurts the healthy cells as well.
Gene therapy trials for cancer are immanent and have already shown promise in animal studies. In animal studies, gene transfer techniques showed to be efficient in treating prostate, lung, and pancreatic tumors. Gene therapy is a solution that could be used soon and improve the outcomes for cancer patients worldwide.
Gene therapy seems like the future, but it has one main problem, the price. The price of gene therapy ranges from several hundreds of thousands of dollars to over one million. The price discriminates most of the population from being able to get treated with gene therapy, limiting the progression of gene therapy. There is good news, though; it is predicted that once Gene therapy becomes widely used, it will become less expensive and commoditized.