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Manipulating Cells to Prevent Disease

Manipulating Cells to Prevent Disease

Genes carried on our chromosomes define our hereditary traits. When human genes are altered, proteins are unable to carry out basic functions, resulting in disease that is gravely debilitating. Gene therapy is an exciting area in medical research that is providing hope for many individuals who experience chronically debilitating diseases.

Still in the experimental stages, gene therapy introduces genetic material into human cells in an effort to battle and even attempt to prevent certain disease processes.

This approach allows for the replacement of abnormal genes with normal ones. Genes can be introduced into cells via vectors, with the most common form being that of viruses. Although viruses are known to cause illness, in gene therapy they are altered to carry healthy DNA in order to make them safe, although a level of risk is still involved.

Assays

Laboratories involved in the expansion of gene therapy utilize a phagocytosis assay to determine when pathogens enter cell membranes and trigger immune responses. Ras proteins are central to molecular interaction as they deliver vital signals to cells that are passed on to affect the function of lipids and DNA, among other important molecular structures. Disruption of these proteins has been noted to be an important factor in the development of serious disease processes such as cancer. Ras activation assays allow for information to aid in research regarding the health and pathology of these important proteins.

Healthy cell oxidation and reduction must maintain a balance between the production of reactive oxygen species, or ROS, and the reduction of cells through the presence of antioxidants. ROS occurs during the conversion of food into energy on a cellular level. Excessive ROS production can damage our DNA. Researchers can measure reactive oxygen species, which are formed during metabolic processes. Use of the ROS activation assay allows for determination of the damaging effects of the presence of antioxidants. It has been determined that this type of cell damage may be countered by adding antioxidants to one’s diet. Vitamin E is one such antioxidant known to stop the production of ROS. Disruptive environmental factors such as chemicals and ultraviolet rays may also trigger ROS production to a further extent.

Research

Current research has lead to many advances with regard to how the disease process begins and how to alter genetic material to prevent the onset of the illness. Clinical trials are currently the only arena in which gene therapy may be allowed. Clinical trials related to gene therapy must undergo strict scrutiny by government agencies prior to initiation and must also abide by strict ethical and legal standards. Ways to improve immune responses to disease are also being explored, allowing for the natural biological process of fighting off foreign cells, such as those with cancer, to be initiated.

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