The exchange of the defective gene could be brought about by a process called homologous recombination. One of the first gene therapy experiments, though well intentioned, caused the death of the patient. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania introduced a normal gene into a boy's body by using the rhino virus as a carrier. The body's immune system attacked this as a pathogen. This led to eventual organ failure and death. Gene therapy projects all over the world were largely abandoned. But more recently, gene therapy is beginning to make a comeback. (ORNL, 2009)
Gene therapy has been tested in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. This is not a treatment that targets amyloid beta proteins or the tangles, but protects the brain cells from destruction. The regenerative properties of skin cells (stem cells) have been used to prevent the brain cells from "withering" away. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans reveal greater brain activity because it reduces the cell death. The improvement rates are up to 50%, which gives hope to the researchers.
Researcher Gary Small and his team have attempted to work on methodologies to prevent the cause of Alzheimer's disease. This involves scanning people within a certain age groups. The scans are designed to reveal both the over expression of amyloid-beta proteins as well the existence of neurofibrillary tangles. These scans will be useful in identifying patients who are susceptible to Alzheimer's disease. (Elements4health, 2009)
One of the common features of this article is that large scale later phase human trials have not been run on any of the treatment modalities. It can be concluded therefore that these treatments have potential but have not yet been proven. Indeed, most local news on television has a health segment, where possible therapies for common ailments are touted. But there is no follow up about whether the research has borne fruits. The Pharma lobby was instrumental in getting Congress to allow the advertisement of pharmaceutical products on television. All advertisements follow a similar pattern. After the description of how this product can cure a disease, the advertisement suggests that the viewer should ask the doctor about a certain treatment. The advertisement, to protect the company from lawsuits, also lists all the possible side effects from taking the product. Anne Underwood, much like other mass media outlets, creates an impression that a treatment for Alzheimer's is imminent. Underwood sets the stage for holding the readers' interest in her article by showing statistics of how many of the older populace were suffering from Alzheimer's and projects that these numbers are likely to go higher within the next decade. Certainly a reader of Newsweek, especially a senior citizen or a family member of one suffering from Alzheimer's disease would be filled with hope that a cure is just around the corner. There are unfortunately, no guarantees that these hopes would be realized.
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