Gene therapy is defined as any therapeutic procedure in which genes are intentionally introduced into human somatic cells. Both preclinical and clinical gene therapy research have been progressing rapidly during the past 15 years; gene therapy is now a highly promising new modality for the treatment of numerous human disorders. Since the first clinical test of gene therapy in 1989, more than 600 gene therapy protocols have been approved, and more than 3000 patients have received gene therapy. However, at the time of writing this article, no gene therapy products have been approved for clinical use. This article explains the potential clinical scope of gene therapy and the underlying pharmacological principles, describes some of the major gene transfer systems (or vectors) that are used to deliver genes to their target sites, and discusses the various strategies for controlling expression of therapeutic transgenes. Safety issues regarding clinical use of gene therapy are explored, and the most important technical challenges facing this field of research are highlighted. This review should serve as an introduction to the subject of gene therapy for clinician investigators, physicians and medical scientists in training, practicing clinicians, and other students of medicine.
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