Rewriting Life

Shocking Genes

In a technique that could overcome a major hurdle to gene therapy, small electric jolts push therapeutic genes into the cells that need help.

Gene therapy holds promise for treating diseases from cystic fibrosis to diabetes. But safely and effectively delivering genes to the cells that need them has been the field’s biggest obstacle. Luyi Sen, a cardiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles’s David Geffen Medical School, has a technique that could help: she uses small electric shocks to “push” the genes into cells. Scientists have long employed electric shocks to transfer genes into cells in research labs, but the voltages used would damage whole organs. Sen has lowered those voltages by placing electrodes in contact with a patient’s tissues. She arranges 32 to 128 electrodes in a “basket” on a catheter or endoscope and threads the tube through blood vessels into the interior of an organ, where the basket is expanded. Therapeutic genes in solution are fed through another vessel, and tiny electric jolts induce cells to take up the genes. In tests on rabbit hearts, genes have been transferred at up to 75 percent efficiency. Today’s most popular gene delivery method, viruses made noninfectious, has top rates of only 70 percent and can cause dangerous immune reactions. Several firms have expressed interest in manufacturing Sen’s devices.

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.