Patients with Parkinson's disease may be the first group to benefit from gene therapy, the much hyped technique that has yet to result in a single reliable treatment despite nearly two decades of experimentation. Now researchers report that a gene-bearing virus injected directly into the brain was able to improve patients' motor function without causing any adverse side effects.
In the 1990s gene therapy was hailed as an impending revolution in medicine because of its potential to attack disease at its genetic roots. The research results did not live up to the hype, however, and in 1999 much of the remaining hope for gene therapy was destroyed when an 18-year-old boy suffered an unexpectedly severe immune reaction and died during an experiment. But small-scale research continued with new safety rules in place, and studies such as this one may give the treatment option a second life.