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Hepatitis B aids gene therapy

A team of Japanese and Belgian scientists says it has found promise with the hepatitis B virus, using it as a tool to temporarily treat haemophiliac mice.

health and fitness Updated: Jul 12, 2003 20:20 IST

Scientists have worked for years to harness the power that viruses have to invade cells, replacing unwanted elements of herpes and other viruses with disease-fighting genes in hopes that the new genetic payload would correct a targeted illness.

Such genetic therapies have found limited success so far.

But a team of 12 Japanese and Belgian scientists says it has found promise with the hepatitis B virus, using it as a tool to temporarily treat haemophiliac mice.

The researchers reported on Monday in the online edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology that their technique - using a small, hollow fragment of the Hepatitis B virus - enables the inserted genes to be more narrowly focused than other viral delivery systems.

Engineered viruses sometimes deliver good genes to bad places, setting unintended cellular changes in motion. That's what happened recently to two boys who got leukaemia after being successfully treated for the immune disorder commonly called "bubble boy" disease.

Those other viruses have the potential of entering a wide variety of cells, but the researchers said in their report that their hepatitis B method targets only liver cells.

The researchers aren't using the whole hepatitis B virus, but instead are inserting disease-fighting genes inside "nanoparticles," tiny fragments of the virus.

Those nanoparticles dumped their genetic payload of blood-clotting genes almost exclusively in the liver.

First Published: Jul 12, 2003 00:00 IST