When most people think of DNA, they envision it as the inherited substance that has made them what they are. They also see it as something that’s sacrosanct, written in stone, enduring from cradle to grave.
As it turns out, they could be wrong. Modern science can alter the DNA sequence, and it can do this for one cell, for multiple cells, or for an entire organism. Why would one wish to make the effort, though, and what are the implications?
What Gene Therapy Involves
In human beings, two types of genetic modifications are under investigation: germ-line and somatic. Each involves the introduction of a gene or gene segment into cells in need of adjustment, and neither is yet out of the experimental stage.
Germline Gene Therapy
Human germline genetic modification, or HGGM, aims to correct a malfunctioning or non functioning genetic component by altering the DNA of human eggs or sperm. This theoretical, untried intervention would permanently affect the genetic makeup of future generations while having no effect whatsoever on the donors.
Somatic Gene Therapy
Somatic genetic modification attempts to treat or cure medical conditions by directly targeting the DNA sequence of diseased organs or tissues at the cellular level. Since somatic genetic modification makes no changes to the patient’s eggs or sperm, these updates will affect only the recipient and not pass on to future generations.
How Gene Therapy Is Performed
The practice of gene therapy involves transmitting genetic material into the cells in question. Since direct insertion has proven ineffective, researchers must employ a vector for this purpose. Some of the most effective carriers have proven to be modified viruses that work by infecting the cell to make it more receptive by weakening its resistance.
The means of delivery can also vary. Some methods introduce the vector directly to the patient’s body either intravenously or through inoculation. Others involve removing a patient’s cells and exposing them to the vector in a test tube environment before returning them to the body.
The Future of Gene Therapy
Although still in its infancy, successful somatic gene therapy could conceivably treat or even cure such diseases as:
- Chronic granulomatous disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Severe combined immune deficiency
- Sickle-cell anemia
If successful, the introduced gene will generate a working protein that alters the structure of the DNA to correct the genetic malfunction that’s causing the problem.
While somatic gene therapy may someday routinely cure disease and rectify inherited defects, the ability of germline gene therapy to alter the DNA of future generations raises some ethical questions.
The prospect of custom ordering a red-haired, brown-eyed child with an IQ of 165 might entice some future parents, but potential legal and moral objections could halt such creativity before it ever gets off the ground.
Genetic Complications in Type 2 Diabetes
Genes control much of our health, so knowing which ones we carry and how to interact with any given set, should give us more control over our health. Medical research is looking at which particular genes can influence health outcomes in order to tailor therapy for unique individual people.
In June 2015 the Journal of Diabetes Complications reported on a study of various genes that code for a molecule called adiponectin and the risk of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
This particular neuropathy is a diabetes complication in which the feet, and often the hands, feet numb with a pins and needles sensation for which patients are recommended to use foot pillow and edema shoes. It is sometimes referred to as a stocking and glove distribution. This happens when the small blood vessels are unable to bring enough oxygen and nutrients to the outer nerves. Type 2 diabetics with this form of neuropathy frequently do not feel like walking, and the condition worsens from lack of activity.
From your fat cells, Adiponectin is a hormone released. It is involved with fat and carbohydrate regulation. Lack of this hormone is associated with insulin resistance, the cause of Type 2 diabetes.
Investigators at the First Affiliated Hospital of Jilin University in Changchun, China and several other research centers throughout the country looked at the association between two types of genes coding for adiponectin and the risk of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. The study included…
- 180 people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and
- 90 non-diabetics acting as controls.
Peripheral neuropathy is found in almost half of the Type 2 Diabetes patients. It was found the Type 2 diabetics with peripheral neuropathy had lower levels of adiponectin than did any of the Type 2 diabetics without peripheral neuropathy and the non-diabetic controls.
Two genes termed T45G and G276T, were associated with significantly low plasma levels of the hormone in both diabetic groups when compared with the healthy controls. Several other genes were seen in varying numbers in the peripheral neuropathy and non-peripheral groups.
In Type 2 diabetics, genes GG and GT appeared to show a protective effect against peripheral neuropathy, while gene TG was associated with a higher risk of the condition. From these results, it was concluded some genes actually placed people at risk for developing diabetic peripheral neuropathy by lowering adiponectin levels.
It might become possible to analyze genes to be able to predict with some accuracy which diabetics are at risk for peripheral neuropathy and various other complications. Early intervention will likely prevent many of the complications seen today. Meanwhile, regular physical activity, especially walking, is a good way to help prevent peripheral neuropathy.
It can be very challenging, managing your disease, It is not a condition you must just live with when you have Type 2 Diabetes. You can lower both your weight and your blood sugar levels and make simple changes to your daily routine. The longer you do it, the easier it gets so; you need to hang onto it.
World-wide medical studies using adult stem cells derived from human bone marrow have shown absolutely exciting results. This editorial focused on a breakthrough trial of fifteen young patients suffering from type 1 diabetes. The patients received transfusions of stem cells taken from their own bodies.