Do genes delivered by gene therapy get inherited?

14 March 2012

Question

Hello Naked Scientists!

After an individual receives a treatment of gene therapy, is it the original faulty DNA, or the new corrected DNA, that gets passed on to their offspring? Is it only males that can pass on the new gene, because female eggs are not "updated"?

Thanks!

Ian McKay
PhD Student
Cornell University

Answer

Most types of gene therapy are what's called somatic gene therapy - they're designed to only deliver genes to certain non-reproductive cells of the body, such as delivering a healthy version of the damaged cystic fibrosis gene only to the lung cells of someone with the disease. This is the main approach being used by scientists working in gene therapy. It's very unlikely that these genes could transfer into the sperm-producing cells in men, and even less likely they could get into the egg cells in women. Germline gene therapy, which changes the genes in sperm or eggs so they would be passed on to children, is actually banned in most parts of the world at the moment, for both technical and ethical reasons.

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