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US halts gene therapy experiment after death

4 October 1999
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 28

A gene therapy experiment has been halted in the US after the death of a teenager from Arizona who volunteered for the study to help others suffering from his rare metabolic disease. The death is the latest in a series of setbacks for a promising but experimental technique in which doctors use live viruses and other means to transport potentially therapeutic genes into the body.

Gene therapy has so far failed to deliver its first cure and has been the subject of criticism by medical experts for having been employed in treatment when little is still known about the effects of various genes. Jesse Gelsinger, 18, died on 17 September in the University of Pennsylvania hospital in Philadelphia. Several days earlier, his liver had been infused with genetically engineered adenoviruses, one of the viruses which cause the common cold, to correct a defective gene. Thousands of patients in the US have been treated with variations of gene therapy.

The experiment at the University of Pennsylvania involving 18 people has been halted pending an investigation into the precise cause of death. Federal officials plan to write to 100 other researchers in the US who have been involved in gene therapy experiments to inform them of any serious side-effect of their treatments. The other 17 patients who have been undergoing the same treatment as Gelsinger have reportedly suffered no side-effects.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Family's debate mirrored scientists' on gene therapy risk
The Washington Post |  30 September 1999
Gene therapy experiment halted after death of participant.
CNN Interactive |  29 September 1999
Teen dies undergoing experimental gene therapy
The Washington Post |  29 September 1999
US halts gene tests after youth dies
The Guardian |  30 September 1999
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