Gene therapy for arthritis faces 1st test W.Va. woman 1 of 9 to get experimental treatment

July 19, 1996|By NEWSDAY

The first test of gene therapy against chronic arthritis -- to see if the procedure is safe -- has begun in a 68-year-old West Virginia woman, doctors reported yesterday.

Although the science underlying the treatment is difficult and complex, the procedure itself was simple, "just a pinprick, and afterwards we took her out to dinner," molecular biologist Chris Evans, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said.

The one-hour gene therapy involved injecting genetically engineered synovial cells into two of the woman's arthritic finger joints. Similar cells that had not been altered genetically were injected into two other joints for purposes of comparison. Synovial cells form the slippery surface in joints that allows bones to rub against each other smoothly.

It will not be known for months whether there was any effect that might be beneficial, after tissue samples are taken from affected finger joints to see if the treatment did anything, Evans said. The main goal, he said, is to assess safety. Evans said all four of the treated finger joints will be removed next week when the woman undergoes surgery to put in artificial finger joints. The patient, Carlene Lauffer, from Weirton, W.Va., is the first of nine women who will receive the experimental treatment.

Pub Date: 7/19/96

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