What are some potential problems involved in the use of viruses in gene therapy.

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trophyhunter1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Viruses are useful in gene therapy as vectors because they normally attach to host cells when they reproduce and inject their genetic information into the host cell, causing the host cell to produce more copies of the virus. In gene therapy, the premise is to utilize viruses to inject the necessary genes that the host cell requires to function properly, thereby treating the disease. For instance, if insulin genes could be inserted into cells that are not producing insulin, then diabetes could be cured in that person. Unfortunately, sometimes the genes that are being inserted end up being randomly placed in the host's DNA. If it is inserted in the middle of a gene, it could cause problems since that gene might not be able to properly function. If that gene controls cell division, it could lead to uncontrolled cell division which can lead to cancer. Also, when modifying a virus to become a vector, the gene in the virus that is used to help the virus insert itself into the host cell must be left intact, while any harmful gene the virus may carry must be destroyed. Then, the gene you want to be carried into the cell must be inserted into the virus. There is always a risk that harmful genes from the virus can be transmitted to the host.  There has been some success with gene therapies, however,much research needs to be done before any new gene therapies are available to humans. 

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