Injections and infusions are a part of life for many hemophiliacs, diabetics and people with kidney failure.
Short of curing their diseases, a better approach to treatment would be making their bodies produce the medication that saves their lives.
A team of researchers at University of Pennsylvania has shown that this could be possible by inserting genes into their lungs. By adding a gene to mice lungs that encodes for a protein missing from some hemophiliacs’ blood — factor IX — the researchers have caused the mice lungs to churn out the protein in therapeutic amounts.
Lungs join list of potential medicine-producing organs
Lungs are perfect for becoming drug factories, as patients could inhale therapeutic genes using aerosol sprays similar to the way some asthmatics inhale medication today. Once the genes became active, the lungs’ rich blood supply would lead to wide circulation of medicinal proteins.
But lungs aren’t the only organ that could perform such a function. A University of Florida team is currently testing muscle and liver tissue by injecting them with gene-bearing viruses, and clinical trials of factor IX-producing livers are underway.
It may also be possible to create artificial organs for the sole purpose of producing medication. These could then be implanted under the skin.
While research into making the body a medicine factory looks promising, however, there is still little information on whether proteins manufactured in abnormal areas will work abnormally or cause a potentially dangerous immune response.