In September 1999 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger died after receiving an infusion of adenoviruses into his liver. He had a mild form of an inherited liver disease called ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency (OTCD) and was participating in a clinical trial of a new gene therapy to use adenoviruses to ferry a corrected copy of the gene encoding OTCD into his liver cells. Unfortunately, four days after an infusion of the viruses, he died of acute respiratory distress syndrome and multiple organ failure, apparently caused by an overwhelming immune reaction to the large dose of adenoviruses he had been administered as part of the trial.
Although Gelsinger's death was part of a gene therapy trial, the tragedy also has ramifications for the new field of virotherapy. Gene therapy uses crippled versions of viruses such as adenovirus to introduce a new gene into cells; virotherapy employs actively replicating viruses (which may or may not contain added genes) to kill specific types of cells. Both, however, rely heavily on adenoviruses.