HP Innovation Journal Issue 10: Fall 2018 - Page 62

Another novel approach to regenerative medicine is gene therapy, which either inactivates or replaces improperly functioning genes to cure or prevent a medical condition or introduces a new gene to help fight against a disease. Since August 2017, the FDA has approved three gene therapy products, the first of their kind. Two of them reprogram a patient’s own cells to attack deadly cancer cells in B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma , while the most recent treats a rare form of inherited vision loss caused by mutations in a specific gene. At the same time, new gene editing techniques like CRISPR are accelerating the pipeline of gene therapies. In fact, human trials have begun for the first gene therapy that modifies DNA in living patients. If it is successful, it will open a new pathway to treating diseases ranging from HIV to high cholesterol. Gene therapy research is also proving critical to dealing with neurodegenerative diseases and memory loss. Forty percent of the U.S. population over 65 suffers from memory impairment. 4 Globally, an estimated 50 million people live with dementia—a number that is expected to double every 20 years. 5 To help combat this, last year the National Institutes of Health announced a $400 million surge in research funding for Alzheimer’s and dementia research. Promising therapeutic approaches that directly modify Alzheimer’s risk-associated protein levels or slow down the transcription of their corresponding gene could have a profound impact by blocking the neurodegeneration that leads to cognitive decline. 1 United Nations, 2017 World Population Ageing Report 2 United States Department of Health and Human Services 3 Frost & Sullivan, in partnership with A4M.com 4 Gary Small, “What we need to know about age related memory loss,” BMJ, 2002 June 22; 324(7352): 1502–1505 5 Deloitte UK Centre for Health Solutions and Alzheimer’s Disease International Innovation Journal Issue Ten » Innovation is dramatically reshaping health care and redefining what it means to be human. We are at the dawn of the bio-physical- digital convergence, and we don’t know where science and technology will take us. It raises concern, for some, that our human curiosity and ingenuity may help us realize some of our wildest dreams. The social, ethical, physical and environmental impacts of a bionic age will challenge us, even as they offer amazing gains in health and longevity. But as we weigh the risks and benefits of these technological age-defying advancements, one thing is for certain: we are only getting started.