Researchers have developed a new therapy that can potentially treat rare and hereditary diseases that affect the brain and other organs. The therapy involves using gene editing to correct the mutations that cause these diseases.
Rare and hereditary diseases are conditions that affect a small number of people, usually less than one in 2,000. They are often caused by genetic mutations that are inherited from one or both parents. Some examples of rare and hereditary diseases are:
- DOOR syndrome: a disorder that causes deafness, short or absent nails, short fingers and toes, and intellectual disability.
- Childhood dementia: a group of diseases that cause progressive loss of cognitive and motor functions in children.
- Alzheimer’s disease: a degenerative disease that causes memory loss, confusion, and behavioral changes in older adults.
- ALS: a disease that affects the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movements, leading to muscle weakness and paralysis.
- Parkinson’s disease: a disease that affects the nerve cells that produce dopamine, a chemical that regulates movement and mood, causing tremors, stiffness, and slowness.
How does gene therapy work?
Gene therapy is a technique that uses genes to treat or prevent diseases. Genes are segments of DNA that carry instructions for making proteins, which are essential for the function of cells and organs. Sometimes, genes can have errors or mutations that cause them to produce faulty or missing proteins, leading to diseases.
Gene therapy aims to correct these errors by delivering healthy copies of the genes to the cells that need them. This can be done by using viruses or other methods to insert the genes into the cells. Alternatively, gene therapy can also use tools like CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the genes directly and fix the mutations.
How can gene therapy help rare and hereditary diseases?
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and Oslo University Hospital have been testing gene therapy for rare and hereditary diseases that affect the brain and other organs. They have used mini-organs, such as mini-brains, mini-lungs, and mini-eyes, to study the effects of gene therapy on these diseases.
One of the diseases they have focused on is DOOR syndrome, which is caused by the lack of a protein called OXR1. This protein protects the brain cells from oxidative stress, which is a type of damage caused by reactive molecules. Without OXR1, the brain cells cannot develop properly and may die.
The researchers have used skin cells from people with DOOR syndrome to create mini-brains in the lab. They have then used gene therapy to deliver OXR1 to the mini-brains and observed the results. They have found that gene therapy can restore the normal function and structure of the brain cells and prevent their death.
The researchers hope that their findings can pave the way for developing new therapies for DOOR syndrome and other rare and hereditary diseases. They also hope that their mini-organs can serve as useful models for testing drugs and gene therapy for these diseases.
What are the challenges and opportunities of gene therapy?
Gene therapy is a promising and innovative approach for treating rare and hereditary diseases, but it also faces some challenges and limitations. Some of the challenges are:
- Safety: gene therapy can have side effects or unintended consequences, such as immune reactions, infections, or cancer. Therefore, gene therapy needs to be carefully tested and regulated before it can be used in humans.
- Delivery: gene therapy needs to be able to reach the target cells and organs efficiently and specifically, without affecting other cells and organs. This can be difficult depending on the type and location of the disease.
- Cost: gene therapy can be expensive and complex to produce and administer, making it inaccessible or unaffordable for many patients and health systems.
However, gene therapy also offers some opportunities and advantages, such as:
- Effectiveness: gene therapy can potentially cure or prevent diseases that have no other treatments or that are resistant to conventional drugs.
- Personalization: gene therapy can be tailored to the individual needs and characteristics of each patient, based on their genetic profile and disease condition.
- Innovation: gene therapy can stimulate new research and discoveries in the fields of genetics, biotechnology, and medicine.
Gene therapy is a new and exciting therapy that can help treat rare and hereditary diseases that affect the brain and other organs. Researchers have shown that gene therapy can correct the genetic mutations that cause these diseases and restore the normal function and structure of the cells and organs. Gene therapy faces some challenges and limitations, but it also offers some opportunities and advantages for the future of medicine.