The human genome project has led to the identification of more than 2000 disease-relevant genes. In principle, this means that the targeted use of gene therapies is possible. However, the precondition for this is the surmounting of the current technical difficulties encountered in gene therapy approaches.
According to the definition of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG), gene therapy means introducing genes into tissue or cells in order to derive therapeutic or preventive benefits from the expression and function of these genes. This process is called gene transfer. For it, you need a carrier to transport the gene; this is known as a vector.
A distinction should be made between somatic gene transfer and germline gene transfer. The distinguishing feature is the local target. Somatic gene therapy is directed at somatic cells, i.e. cells of the human body. They make up most of human cells. The hereditary information from somatic cells is not passed on to future generations. The situation is different in the case of gametes, i.e. oocytes or sperm cells. Modifications to the germline are modifications to hereditary material and would, therefore, be passed on to future generations. Germline gene transfer is prohibited by law in Germany.
In a special supplement the Group focusses on this field of gene technology. In the tradition of interdisciplinary working methods, aspects of the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences are drawn together. Besides looking at the state-of-the-art in scientific-medical applications and the legal framework conditions, attention also focuses on economic importance, potential ethical implications for research and assessment by patients.