Researchers improve gene therapy technique for children with immune disorder

By including chemotherapy as a conditioning regimen prior to treatment, researchers have developed a refined gene therapy approach that safely and effectively restores the immune system of children with a form of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), according to a study.
SCID is a group of rare and debilitating genetic disorders that affect the normal development of the immune system in newborns. Infants with SCID are prone to serious, life-threatening infections within the first few months of life and require extensive treatment for survival beyond infancy.
Adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency, which accounts for approximately 15 percent of all SCID cases, develops when a gene mutation prohibits the production of ADA, an enzyme that breaks down toxic molecules that can accumulate to harmful levels and kill lymphocytes, the specialised white blood cells that help make up the immune system. In its absence, infants with ADA-deficient SCID lack almost all immune defenses and their condition is almost always fatal within two years if left untreated. Standard treatment for ADA-deficient SCID is a haematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) from a sibling or related donor; however, finding a matched donor can be difficult and transplants can carry significant risks. An alternate treatment method, enzyme replacement therapy (ERT), involves regular injections of the ADA enzyme to maintain the immune system and can help restore immune function; however, the treatments are extremely expensive and painful for the young patients and the effects are often only temporary.
Given the limitations of HSCT and ERT, in the 1990s researchers began investigating the efficacy of gene therapy for ADA-deficient SCID. They discovered that they could ‘correct’ the function of a mutated gene by adding a healthy copy into the cells of the body that help fight infectious diseases. Since then, there have been significant advances in gene therapy for SCID, yet successful gene therapy in patients with ADA-deficient SCID has been seen in only a small series of children due to the difficulty of introducing a healthy ADA gene into bone marrow stem cells and to engraft these cells back into the patients.
‘Although the basic steps of gene therapy for patients with SCID have been known for a while, technical and clinical challenges still exist and we wanted to find an optimized gene therapy protocol to restore immunity for young children with ADA-deficient SCID,’ said Fabio Candotti, MD, one of the study