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Thursday 27th October 2016

Babies cured in womb?

19th March 2007

British scientists have announced that they hope to use gene therapy to cure foetal diseases.


The controversial work has raised ethical and safety concerns but scientists insist gene therapy could eradicate some childhood diseases. Gene therapy involves either replacing damaged or abnormal genes with normal ones or re-writing a person’s genetic code in order to help them fight diseases. Therapeutic genes are transferred into a patient via a carrier which is injected into the blood stream. Despite the successful treatment of adult and child haemophiliacs and those with immunity disorders, gene therapy can be problematic as the patient’s system sometimes produces antibodies to stop the treatment from working. Some doctors are also worried that gene therapy can trigger the onset of cancer and other diseases. Others are concerned that a child’s gene map will be destroyed by the treatment, thus stopping their individual traits being passed on to future generations.

However, scientists hope that because the foetal immune system is not fully developed and the child’s cells are multiplying rapidly, the treatment could be highly successful. There is also a hope that diseases could be cured before they cause any long term damage to the baby. A spokesperson for the team at University College London said, "There are several advantages. For example, in cystic fibrosis, lung damage is actually occurring before birth. So, if you can get your gene therapy in before then, you might be able to stop the disease from happening.?

The Department of Health responded by saying that no human clinical trials of in-utero gene therapy had ever taken place in the UK and that the government did not currently consider it to be a possibility.


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