Volume 93, Issue 83

Wednesday, March 8, 2000


Bus might stop for graduate students

McGill gets sued over dismissal

Feds sorry about money mix-up

Council to vote on White Paper position

Border officials get new powers

CBC program sparks a gene therapy debate

Downtown parking a developing concern


Bass Ackwards

Caught on campus 1

Caught on campus 2

Caught on campus 3

CBC program sparks a gene therapy debate

By Andrea Ellyn & Leena Kamat
Gazette Staff

The risks involved with gene therapy have recently become a topic of discussion, but experts say it is too early to determine the dangers and benefits of such therapy.

The interest surrounding gene therapy was renewed by a CBC investigative report which appeared on Monday's airing of The Magazine. The report centred on the death of James Dent, a Toronto man who died in April 1997 from a virus associated with gene therapy.

Mick Bhatia, professor of microbiology and immunology at Western and research scientist at the Robarts Research Institute, said gene therapy was a way of using human genetic material to modify a cell's ability to perform an activity.

It is mainly used when a person is born with a genetic defect and a gene is missing – this causes a malfunction in the body. When the missing gene is known, gene therapy can insert the gene into the correct cells in the body, Bhatia said.

"An important strategy for gene therapy is to try and maintain the proper expression of genes by putting the right gene into the right cell and at the right level," said David Rodenhiser, associate professor of biochemistry and paediatrics at Western's medical school.

"Being able to control the tissue in the cells is very important because too much expression of the gene will cause the cells to go completely out of whack."

Because of the risks involved, gene therapy is often an act of desperation, said George Carruthers, chair of the department of medicine at Western. "The theoretical principles of gene therapy are sound and logical and this is an area of research that should most definitely continue to be studied."

Bhatia said he has heard of only two deaths, including Dent's, associated with gene therapy and it was too soon to assess the risks of the procedure. He added this therapy was in the experimental stages in Canada and was heavily regulated.

Gene therapy may one day be able to prevent the onset of certain genetic diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, he said, but much assessment has to take place first.

"Gene therapy is not a conventional therapy," he said. "It has a lot of potential and a lot of hope involved."

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Copyright The Gazette 2000