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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 02:46 GMT
Gene therapy trials under review
Rhys Evans
Rhys Evans was 'cured' of X-SCID by gene therapy
Genetics experts are expected to examine a revolutionary form of gene therapy given to British children on Wednesday.

The future of the trials is under review following a second case of leukaemia in a child undergoing the treatment in France.

The patient was a boy "cured" of a condition called X-SCID, popularly known as "bubble boy disease".

One has to weigh up the risks in the light of the knowledge at that particular time

Prof Norman Nevin
The genetic defect leaves children without an immune system; they need to be kept in sterile conditions or might catch fatal infections.

The body that regulates gene therapy in the UK, the Gene Therapy Advisory Commission (Gtac), is expected to look at the latest case at a routine meeting this week.

It is to make recommendations on the future of British trials after a joint meeting with the Committee on the Safety of Medicines in March.

Gtac chairman Professor Norman Nevin said the trials raised an ethical dilemma.

He told BBC News Online: "You know this treatment will cure the disease but you also know there is a small risk that the gene may get in the wrong place and cause a child to develop leukaemia.

"One has to weigh up the risks in the light of the knowledge at that particular time."

Immunity boost

The procedure involves taking faulty immune cells from the bone marrow, genetically modifying them in the laboratory so they work properly, then putting them back to 'kick-start' the immune system.

However, two boys treated in France have fallen ill with a leukaemic illness.

The Food and Drugs Administration in the US and the French authorities have suspended the treatment, and many other trials involving a similar gene modification technique.

Four children have received a similar therapy at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

There are no reports of side effects but no further X-SCID gene therapy will be carried out in the UK until the question marks over safety have been resolved.

See also:

03 Oct 02 | Health
03 Apr 02 | Health
03 Apr 02 | Health
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