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Is it possible to create a genetically modified virus to carry a custom genetic payload, that could express protiens that the host is unable to make themselves?

For example, could a virus be created to carry the genetic code to express the insulin protein for diabetics, or Serotonin for Parkinson's or even Telomerase, so we can all live longer?

I'm aware that there would be risks, in not being able to control and sustain the amount of protien expressed, or even the virus mutating or spreading, but in theory, is it possible?

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Yes.

Gene therapy is an active area of research; most gene therapy approaches that are studied use some sort of viral vector, those that don't are more the exception and it is unclear how several of those methods would be applied clinically.

There have already been clinical trials of gene therapy with viral vectors, with mixed success.


Edelstein, M. L., Abedi, M. R., & Wixon, J. (2007). Gene therapy clinical trials worldwide to 2007—an update. The Journal of Gene Medicine: A cross‐disciplinary journal for research on the science of gene transfer and its clinical applications, 9(10), 833-842.

Ginn, S. L., Alexander, I. E., Edelstein, M. L., Abedi, M. R., & Wixon, J. (2013). Gene therapy clinical trials worldwide to 2012–an update. The journal of gene medicine, 15(2), 65-77.

Greenberg, B., Butler, J., Felker, G. M., Ponikowski, P., Voors, A. A., Desai, A. S., ... & Pogoda, J. M. (2016). Calcium upregulation by percutaneous administration of gene therapy in patients with cardiac disease (CUPID 2): a randomised, multinational, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 2b trial. The Lancet, 387(10024), 1178-1186.

Kay, M. A., Glorioso, J. C., & Naldini, L. (2001). Viral vectors for gene therapy: the art of turning infectious agents into vehicles of therapeutics. Nature medicine, 7(1), 33.

Mulligan, R. C. (1993). The basic science of gene therapy. Science, 260(5110), 926-932.

Naldini, L. (2015). Gene therapy returns to centre stage. Nature, 526(7573), 351.

Niidome, T., & Huang, L. (2002). Gene therapy progress and prospects: nonviral vectors. Gene therapy, 9(24), 1647.

Thomas, C. E., Ehrhardt, A., & Kay, M. A. (2003). Progress and problems with the use of viral vectors for gene therapy. Nature Reviews Genetics, 4(5), 346.

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  • Interesting! I see that simply making a virus deliver DNA to express telomerase has already been tried in mice, but would make humans much more susceptable to cancer, so unfortunately, it's not the answer to immortality; ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3494068 – Fiach Reid Sep 20 '18 at 19:18
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    @FiachReid Yeah, as you will find in some of my other refs, cancer in general is a big issue with viral delivery: the problem is that in classical approaches, the virus kind of just inserts itself wherever. This is a big problem because if it inserts itself in the middle of a tumor suppressing gene, you've made a big step towards cancer. Avoiding that problem is a big area of excitement in the field. – Bryan Krause Sep 20 '18 at 20:07

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