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Gene therapy approach may reduce cancer risk

By Ryan Maass
During the study, WSU scientists altered a retrovirus to target a genome within a stem cell without affecting surrounding genes. Photo by PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay
During the study, WSU scientists altered a retrovirus to target a genome within a stem cell without affecting surrounding genes. Photo by PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

SPOKANE, Wash., Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Scientists at Washington State University have developed a gene therapy method designed to reduce the development of cancer cells.

Gene therapy is an experimental technique used to treat a variety of genetic diseases. In many cases, new genes are introduced to help the body fight a disease, or damaged genes are replaced with healthy ones. In a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, WSU researchers altered the way viruses carry beneficial genes to their target cells in an effort to reduce the risk of cancer in addition to many blood diseases.

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The team, led by study author Grant Trobridge, is developing gene therapy using stem cells to treat an immunodeficiency in newborns known as "Boy in the Bubble Syndrome," or SCID-X1.

"Our goal is to develop a safe and effective therapy for SCID-X patients and their families," Trobridge explained in a press release. "We've started to translate this in collaboration with other scientists and medical doctors into the clinic."

In the study, Trobridge and his team used a vector developed from a foamy retrovirus. Researchers say retroviruses are ideal for gene therapy because they insert their genes into a host's genome, and are less likely to activate nearby genes that may cause cancer.

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The retrovirus was altered to change how it would interact with a stem cell. Researchers observed that it integrated with surrounding genes less often after the changes.

The team is confident their findings can support the development of more effective gene therapy methods, and expect the approach to be ready for clinical trials within 5 years.

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