Killer Cures?

Two deadly viruses, the ones that cause Ebola and AIDS, could actually help cure a devastating and deadly genetic disease.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is caused by a single faulty gene. Researchers believe that by replacing the faulty gene, the disease could be cured. But how do you get the good gene in to replace the bad one? You need a super efficient delivery system -- a virus. Viruses are expert invaders, attaching themselves to cells and injecting their own genetic material into a cell. Researchers often use viruses as the "carriers" in gene therapy experiments. (See vector.)

In this case, researchers believe the characteristics that make Ebola and HIV so strong, will also make them the perfect carriers for a CF cure. The Ebola virus naturally targets lung cells, the same cells attacked by cystic fibrosis. HIV has longterm staying power, which would keep it in place to keep delivering the healthy gene.

One major hurdle in this approach is, of course, stripping the viruses of any genetic material that would cause Ebola or AIDS. That's why researchers don't know if the experiment will ever be tried in humans. But the approach and research into using the virus characteristics could bring us much closer to a cure for CF.

Explore More: Genetic Engineering
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
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