Germ Line versus Somatic Cell Gene Therapy

Virtually all cells in the human body contain genes, making them potential targets for gene therapy. However, these cells can be divided into two major categories: germ line cells (which include sperm and eggs) and somatic cells. There are fundamental differences between these cell types, and these differences have profound ethical implications.

Gene therapy using germ line cells results in permanent changes that are passed down to subsequent generations. If done early in embryologic development, such as during preimplantation diagnosis and in vitro fertilization, the gene transfer could also occur in all cells of the developing embryo. The appeal of germ line gene therapy is its potential for offering a permanent therapeutic effect for all who inherit the target gene. Successful germ line therapies introduce the possibility of eliminating some diseases

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