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Semin Fetal Neonatal Med. 2008 Aug;13(4):282-90. doi: 10.1016/j.siny.2008.03.002. Epub 2008 Apr 16.

Perinatal stem-cell and gene therapy for hemoglobinopathies.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Inselspital, Bern University Hospital and University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.


Most genetic diseases of the lymphohematopoietic system, including hemoglobinopathies, can now be diagnosed early in gestation. However, as yet, prenatal treatment is not available. Postnatal therapy by hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation from bone marrow, mobilized peripheral blood, or umbilical cord blood is possible for several of these diseases, in particular for the hemoglobinopathies, but is often limited by a lack of histocompatible donors, severe treatment-associated morbidity, and preexisting organ damage that developed before birth. In-utero transplantation of allogeneic HSC has been performed successfully in various animal models and recently in humans. However, the clinical success of this novel treatment is limited to diseases in which the fetus is affected by severe immunodeficiency. The lack of donor cell engraftment in nonimmunocompromised hosts is thought to be due to immunologic barriers, as well as to competitive fetal marrow population by host HSCs. Among the possible strategies to circumvent allogeneic HLA barriers, the use of gene therapy by genetically corrected autologous HSCs in the fetus is one of the most promising approaches. The recent development of strategies to overcome failure of efficient transduction of quiescent hematopoietic cells using new vector constructs and transduction protocols opens new perspectives for gene therapy in general, as well as for prenatal gene transfer in particular. The fetus might be especially susceptible for successful gene therapy approaches because of the developing, expanding hematopoietic system during gestation and the immunologic naiveté early in gestation, precluding immune reaction towards the transgene by inducing tolerance. Ethical issues, in particular regarding treatment safety, must be addressed more closely before clinical trials with fetal gene therapy in human pregnancies can be initiated.

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