About this Research Topic
Viral vectors are superior tools for gene therapy and as a genetic vaccine platform because viruses have evolved to efficiently infect and transfer their genomes to cells. Several impressive successes in viral vector-based gene therapies have been reported in humans, including restoration of vision in patients with Leber’s congenital amaurosis by retinal gene transfer and cures for severe immune deficiencies by gene transfer to hematopoietic stem cells. However, the mammalian immune system has evolved in parallel to fend off invading pathogens such as viruses. Innate and antigen-specific adaptive immune responses against viral vectors and therapeutic transgene products pose serious hurdles for successful gene therapy. Pre-existing immunity in humans, resulting from prior exposure to the parent virus that forms the basis for the gene transfer vehicle may be derived from, often prevents efficient gene transfer. This problem also reduces our ability to use certain vectors for genetic vaccination or in anti-cancer therapy. For these reasons, the gene transfer community has been extensively studying the mechanisms of immune responses against viral vectors and has started to develop strategies and protocols to block or circumvent such responses. Choice, design and engineering of a vector as well as the route of administration/target tissue can be optimized/ altered to minimize immune responses or evade pre-existing immunity. Immune suppression and modulation strategies are being developed in order to minimize inflammation, prevent antibody or T cell responses against vectors, and to promote tolerance to therapeutic gene products. Combinations of these approaches will likely facilitate clinical applications of gene therapy for many target diseases and also aid in vaccine development.
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