WEDNESDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) -- More than a dozen
children with so-called "bubble boy" disease are alive and well,
with functioning immune systems, nine years after undergoing gene
therapy to correct their disorder, researchers report.
Most of the patients attend school with other children,
something that probably would have been fatal without
"The promise of gene therapy is being fulfilled, at least for these diseases, where a number of patients are walking around in good health because they had gene therapy," said Dr. Donald Kohn, professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The disorder -- severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) --
compromises the immune system so severely that children can't fight
off normally innocuous infections. The condition is rare, and the
term "bubble boy" was coined after a Texas boy with the condition
lived in a germ-free plastic bubble.
Only boys inherit the gene in question, and many born with SCID
die in infancy.
Two studies published Aug. 24 in
Science Translational Medicine detail the results of the
gene-modifying treatment. Kohn wrote a perspective piece
accompanying the studies.
Traditionally, the only treatment for SCID was stem cell
transplantation in which immune cells from a matching donor are
transferred to the patient. But it's difficult to find matching
donors and, even then, the patient's body may reject the
With gene therapy, clinicians remove the patient's own bone
marrow, isolate the stem cells, correct the gene and reinsert it
into the patient, explained William J. Bowers, associate professor
of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in
The two current papers detail the success of gene therapy in two
groups of patients: 10 boys with X-linked SCID (SCID-X1); and six
with ADA-SCID, which involves a slightly different gene mutation.
All were between 6 months and 39 months old.
Gene therapy successfully treated four of the six ADA-SCID
All the SCID-X1 children recovered, although one developed
leukemia. That boy is currently in remission, but leukemia has been
a problem with previous gene therapy trials.
Last year, French researchers reported that eight of nine male
infants born with SCID-X1 had recovered as a result of gene
therapy. Unfortunately, almost half developed acute leukemia, one
of whom died.
The virus vector used in this earlier trial inadvertently
activated an oncogene, which led to the development of the
leukemia, researchers said.
The latest research circumvented this problem by using a
different virus vector.
"A cloud was thrown over the field several years ago and they've solved it nicely," said Dr. Darwin Prockop, director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Scott & White in Temple, Texas. "Very probably this can be used for other genetic diseases."
"This field came on with huge promise, then hit a few bumps and now . . . we're starting to see more and more of these successes," added Bowers.
National Human Genome Research Institute has more on SCID.
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