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Modified Adeno-associated Virus (AAV) Vectors: A New Generation of Targeted Gene Therapy Delivery Systems

State-Of-The-Art Human Gene Therapy: Part I. Gene Delivery Technologies

Abstract: Safe and effective gene delivery is a prerequisite for successful gene therapy. In the early age of human gene therapy, setbacks due to problematic gene delivery vehicles plagued the exciting therapeutic outcome. However, gene delivery technologies rapidly evolved ever since. With the advancement of gene delivery techniques, gene therapy clinical trials surged during the past decade. As the first gene therapy product (Glybera) has obtained regulatory approval and reached clinic, human gene therapy finally realized the promise that genes can be medicines. The diverse gene delivery techniques available today have laid the foundation for gene therapy applications in treating a wide range of human diseases. Some of the most urgent unmet medical needs, such as cancer and pandemic infectious diseases, have been tackled by gene therapy strategies with promising results. Furthermore, combining gene transfer with other breakthroughs in biomedical research and novel biotechnologies opened new avenues for gene therapy. Such innovative therapeutic strategies are unthinkable until now, and are expected to be revolutionary. In part I of this review, we introduced recent development of non-viral and viral gene delivery technology platforms. As cell-based gene therapy blossomed, we also summarized the diverse types of cells and vectors employed in ex vivo gene transfer. Finally, challenges in current gene delivery technologies for human use were discussed. ... Read more

HSV/AAV and AAV/Ad hybrid viral vectors for gene therapy

Successful gene therapy depends on the “bells and whistles” of the transgene delivery vectors, which ideally should not only deliver a large target transgene into mammalian cells, but also express the gene permanently. Among the current viral vectors, adenoviral (Ad) vectors and herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 (HSV-1) vectors have the capacity to deliver a large DNA segment (~150Kb) into cells but only enjoy transient transgene expression. On the other hand, adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors can integrate transgenes into mammalian cell genomes for long-term gene expression but can only pack DNA of a limited size (~4.5kb). It is increasingly ... Read more

Reengineered AAV Vectors: Old Dog, New Tricks

Abstract: Adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors have emerged in recent years as powerful tools for therapeutic gene transfer. Successes in clinical trials and the discovery of several hundreds of naturally occurring AAV isolates have triggered efforts to understand and manipulate this deceptively simple parvovirus for a myriad of gene therapy applications. Exciting breakthroughs based on directed evolution of novel tissue-specific variants from combinatorial AAV libraries have been reported. Recent approaches driven by the availability of structural information have yielded a new generation of reengineered AAV vectors. ... Read more

Recent Breakthroughs in Gene Therapy for Inherited Retinal Degeneration

Abstract: Gene therapy for inherited retinal degeneration has made major advances toward the ultimate goal of reversing blindness in human patients. With significant advances in recombinant viral vector design, safety and efficacy profiles have greatly improved. Although these recent advances have been applied to many different retinal diseases, one retinal degenerative disease, Leber congenital amaurosis, appears to have the greatest potential for reversing blindness. In pre-clinical animal studies, gene therapy for Leber congenital amaurosis has demonstrated visual recovery. Recently, in landmark clinical trials, preliminary results have indicated safety and efficacy for the use of gene therapy in Leber congenital amaurosis, thus laying the foundation for continued use of gene therapy in other forms of inherited blinding disease. ... Read more

Gene-directed Enzyme Prodrug Therapy for Cancer: A Glimpse into the Future?

Abstract: Gene-directed enzyme prodrug therapy offers a new approach to treating some cancers. Clinical trials have been completed for brain and prostate cancers and the first product for post-surgical treatment of some brain tumors is awaiting marketing approval. Recent innovations provide a glimpse into the possible future evolution of a new gene medicine. ... Read more

MicroManipulating Viral-based Therapeutics

Abstract: Despite the social stigma and manufacturing hurdles that come with using viruses as therapeutic tools, the molecular specificity offered by these bugs makes them too attractive to ignore. Still largely based on vaccines, viral vectors offer exciting tools to treat cancer or deliver specific genetic payloads to a desired tissue. Unfortunately, early clinical trials utilizing such vectors have been plagued with poor performance or even clinical toxicity most commonly associated with spurious genetic regulation and/or replication of the vector. Past efforts to control for unwanted toxicity have focused on modification of the receptor or use of tissue-specific genetic elements that added specificity to the transcriptional induction of the gene(s) of interest. While this has had some success, engineering receptors to control viral tropism often fails or results in a loss of replicative fitness. In addition, the use of tissue-specific promoter elements not only restricts the vector that can be used, bona fide small promoter elements are often not available for the desired target. With the caveats of viral vector-based therapeutics largely centered on a lack of in vivo control, the recent success of exploiting microRNA expression to limit viral tropism may breathe new life into the field. ... Read more

Viral Expression Cassette Elements to Enhance Transgene Target Specificity and Expression in Gene Therapy

Abstract: Over the last five years, the number of clinical trials involving AAV (adeno-associated virus) and lentiviral vectors continue to increase by about 150 trials each year. For continued success, AAV and lentiviral expression cassettes need to be designed to meet each disease's specific needs. This review discusses how viral vector expression cassettes can be engineered with elements to enhance target specificity and increase transgene expression. The key differences relating to target specificity between ubiquitous and tissue-specific promoters are discussed, as well as how endogenous miRNAs and their target sequences have been used to restrict transgene expression. Specifically, relevant studies indicating how cis-acting elements such as introns, WPRE, polyadenylation signals, and the CMV enhancer are highlighted to show their utility for enhancing transgene expression in gene therapy applications. All discussion bears in mind that expression cassettes have space constraints. In conclusion, this review can serve as a menu of vector genome design elements and their cost in terms of space to thoughtfully engineer viral vectors for gene therapy. ... Read more

State-Of-The-Art Human Gene Therapy: Part II. Gene Therapy Strategies and Clinical Applications

Abstract: In Part I of this Review (Wang and Gao, 2014), we introduced recent advances in gene delivery technologies and explained how they have powered some of the current human gene therapy applications. In Part II, we expand the discussion on gene therapy applications, focusing on some of the most exciting clinical uses. To help readers to grasp the essence and to better organize the diverse applications, we categorize them under four gene therapy strategies: (1) gene replacement therapy for monogenic diseases, (2) gene addition for complex disorders and infectious diseases, (3) gene expression alteration targeting RNA, and (4) gene editing to introduce targeted changes in host genome. Human gene therapy started with the simple idea that replacing a faulty gene with a functional copy can cure a disease. It has been a long and bumpy road to finally translate this seemingly straightforward concept into reality. As many disease mechanisms unraveled, gene therapists have employed a gene addition strategy backed by a deep knowledge of what goes wrong in diseases and how to harness host cellular machinery to battle against diseases. Breakthroughs in other biotechnologies, such as RNA interference and genome editing by chimeric nucleases, have the potential to be integrated into gene therapy. Although clinical trials utilizing these new technologies are currently sparse, these innovations are expected to greatly broaden the scope of gene therapy in the near future. ... Read more

Recent Gene Therapy Advancements for Neurological Diseases

Abstract: The past few years have seen rapid advancements in vector-mediated gene transfer to the nervous system and modest successes in human gene therapy trials. The purpose of this review is to describe commonly-used viral gene transfer vectors and recent advancements towards producing meaningful gene-based treatments for central nervous system (CNS) disorders. Gene therapy trials for Canavan disease, Batten disease, adrenoleukodystrophy, and Parkinson's disease are discussed to illustrate the current state of clinical gene transfer to the CNS. Preclinical studies are under way for a number of diseases, primarily lysosomal storage disorders, using a newer generation of vectors and delivery strategies. Relevant studies in animal models are highlighted for Mucopolysaccharidosis IIIB and Krabbe disease to provide a prelude for what can be expected in the coming years for human gene transfer trials, using recent advancements in gene transfer technology. In conclusion, recent improvements in CNS gene transfer technology are expected to significantly increase the degree of disease rescue in future CNS-directed clinical trials, exceeding the modest clinical successes that have been observed so far. ... Read more

Two Decades of Clinical Gene Therapy – Success Is Finally Mounting

Abstract: Human gene therapy has made substantial progress since the initiation of the first clinical trials 20 years ago. Here, we summarized important applications of gene transfer protocols in the treatment of various human diseases using different viral vectors. Recent successful trials on the treatment of ocular diseases and inherited immune deficiencies are particularly encouraging and have raised hopes that human gene therapy as a standard treatment option will finally become a reality. While immune responses and insertional mutagenesis pose obstacles for this novel form of molecular medicine, continuous progress suggests that a wider range of diseases can be treated with gene therapy in the future. ... Read more

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