Bertrand Jordan

Gene Therapy: Hope or Illusion? Publication date : February 15, 2007

The findings in genetics of the 1980s opened vast new diagnostic and therapeutic perspectives. Gene therapy was hailed as the way of the future, since it would enable the replacement of defective genes in human cells with healthy ones, thus providing a cure for hereditary diseases, cancer, Aids, etc.
But the road between knowledge of how genes work and the development of medication is a long one. Today, after many disappointed hopes and vast financial outlay, only one form of gene therapy has been commercialised (in China). It is used in the treatment of certain types of throat cancer.
In this book, the eventful story of gene therapy, from the 1980s to the present, is recounted as a great adventure: the discussions, the early informal tests, the enthusiasm of industrialists and the press, the growth of start-ups, the major role played in France by the Association Française Contre les Myopathies, the successful treatment of “bubble children” at Paris’ Hôpital Necker, and the future of stem cell research in the wake of the Hwang Woo-suk affair.

Clearly, accurately, and without succumbing to simplistic arguments, this book examines the world of scientific research, its hopes and failures, and helps us understand why gene therapy raised so many hopes.
Were these hopes false? The author reviews recent research all over the world, some of which has given rise to encouraging, new perspectives and to genuine hope (in the cases of cystic fibrosis and haemophilia).

Bertrand Jordan, a molecular biologist, is a former senior research fellow of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. He was the director of the Immunology Centre of Marseille-Luminy and a coordinator of Marseille-Nice Génopole.