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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Friday, September 7, 2007

MIT scientists devise new way to deliver gene therapy

Scientists at MIT have created a new way to carry genes into cells that they believe will be safer than the viruses commonly used to deliver gene therapy.

Gene therapy inserts new genes into patients' cells in the hope of fighting genetic disorders or cancer and other diseases. Viruses have been the vehicles for the new genes in clinical trials, but the method carries risks. In 1999, 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger died during his involvement in a viral gene therapy trial for liver disease; and this summer a patient in an arthritis gene-therapy trial died several days after being injected with viral therapy.

The group at MIT formed biodegradable polymers, or chains of molecules, to bring new genes to their targets. Their results appear this week in Advanced Materials.

"What we wanted to do is start with something that's very safe -- a biocompatible, degradable polymer -- and try to make it more effective, instead of starting with a virus and trying to make it safer," Jordan Green, a graduate student in biological engineering and a co-author of the paper, said in a statement released by MIT.

They tested the polymers in mice and hope to eventually bring the polymers into human clinical trials, MIT said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:30 AM
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