Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Login
Advanced Search

Search for
BioNews


Print Page Follow BioNews on Twitter BioNews RSS feed

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook



King's College London - Health: More than a medical matter





Gene therapy breakthrough for blood-clotting disease

19 December 2011

By Dr Zara Mahmoud

Appeared in BioNews 638

Scientists have successfully used gene therapy to alleviate the symptoms of the blood disease haemophilia B in six human volunteers, raising hope for a potential cure.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), is the result of a collaboration between researchers at St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, USA, and clinicians led by Dr Amit Nathwani at University College London. It has been hailed as a landmark trial as gene therapy has been plagued with unsuccessful clinical outcomes over its 20 year history.

Gene therapy specialist Dr Katherine High of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told the New York Times: 'I think it's incredibly exciting, and I say that even though these people are my competitors'. Dr High is in fact listed as a co-author of the paper due to monitoring work performed in her laboratory.

Haemophilia B is an inherited clotting disorder, linked to a defective gene on the X chromosome. The condition is most often found in men as women have two copies of the X chromosome, and are likely to inherit at least one 'correct' copy of the gene.

The disease manifests itself as the inability to produce clotting factor IX (FIX), a key protein in the formation of blood clots. Patients with haemophilia B suffer from spontaneous bleeding episodes and may require weekly infusions of FIX to live normal lives.

In the NEJM study, scientists transferred a working copy of the gene for FIX using a virus to carry it into cells. This carrier, an 'adenoviral vector', is often used in gene therapy to introduce genes into the body. However, the technique has often led to rejection of the carrier or destruction of the viral cells by the body's immune system.

But the researchers made several improvements to the technique. First, they optimised the gene sequence of the FIX gene, to maximise its effectiveness in human cells. Secondly, they used an adenovirus, AAV8, which usually infects monkeys, as the basis for their carrier. It was considered unlikely that AAV8 would provoke a strong immune response in humans. Once inside the body AAV8 targets liver cells: ideal for this study, as the liver normally produces FIX protein.

At the start of the study, the FIX levels in the blood of all six patients were less than one percent of normal levels. On treatment this rose in all patients and those receiving the highest doses saw their FIX levels rise to between seven and 11 percent of the normal amount.

All patients were less likely to suffer spontaneous internal bleeding, and most were able to increase the period between FIX infusions. In patients receiving gene therapy at low and intermediate doses, FIX levels stabilised to between two and three percent of normal, indicating that the FIX protein was now being made by patients' own liver cells.

'Even modest increases that raise FIX production to more than one percent of normal levels have the potential to dramatically affect a patient's quality of life and reduce bleeding episodes', said Dr Andrew Davidoff, chair of the St Jude Department of Surgery.

Dr Edward Tuddenham, director of the Haemophilia Centre at the Royal Free Hospital in London and a co-author on the study, told the New York Times: 'We are pretty close to the sweet spot. If all goes well, a genetic treatment for haemophilia B could be available for widespread use in a couple of years'.

Experts in the field were cautiously optimistic. Liver cells are able to regenerate and it is likely that the patients will need to be re-administered the FIX gene, increasing the risk of immune rejection. The patients also have a slightly higher risk of liver cancer and will be monitored accordingly.

Dr Ron Crystal, chairman of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, who was not involved in the study, said: 'I think this is a terrific advance for the field. It's a good lesson in terms of don't give up on good ideas'.

 

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Human Gene Therapy | 12 December 2011
 
New England Journal of Medicine | 10 December 2011
 
Clinical progress in gene therapy: Sustained partial correction of the bleeding disorder in patients suffering from severe hemophilia B
Human Gene Therapy | 12 December 2011
 
EurekAlert! | 12 December 2011
 
EurekAlert! | 10 December 2011
 
Time | 12 December 2011
 
New York Times | 10 December 2011
 

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

16 December 2013 - by Rachel Brown 
Gene therapy trials using engineered immune cells have shown considerable progress in treating blood disorders, according to findings presented at the American Society of Hematology's annual meeting... [Read More]

05 December 2011 - by Tamara Hirsch 
US scientists have induced long-lasting HIV protection in mice from a single injection. Their study, published in the journal Nature, uses gene therapy to stimulate production of antibodies against the virus... [Read More]
11 July 2011 - by Dr Caroline Hirst 
Scientists have, for the first time, successfully treated a blood disorder by repairing errors in the DNA of a living animal. Researchers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, together with California-based Sangamo BioSciences, have applied an innovative genome editing technique to treat haemophilia B, which affects around one in 30,000 boys and men... [Read More]
19 October 2009 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Scientists have discovered that the so-called 'Royal disease' that afflicted Queen Victoria's descendants was a very rare form of haemophilia. By analysing the degraded DNA taken from the bones of what are believed to be the last children of Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, scientists at the University of Massachusetts, US, discovered a mutation occurring in F9 on the X chromosome responsible for the production of Factor IX, a clotting agent. A ma... [Read More]

HAVE YOUR SAY
Be the first to have your say.

You need to Login or Register to add comments.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

 


 

- click here to enquire about using this story.

Printer Friendly Page

Published by the Progress Educational Trust
RISK ASSESSMENT:
BREAST CANCER, PREDICTION AND SCREENING
FREE public event in central London, 6.30pm on Thursday 8 May 2014 - find out more HERE

ANNIVERSARY APPEAL
Please donate HERE, so that the Progress Educational Trust can continue throughout 2014 (and beyond) while keeping BioNews FREE for you to read

The Progress Educational Trust was shortlisted for the Charity Times Awards 2011

Advertise your products and services HERE - click for further details

Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE, and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation