Gene therapy holds the promise of correcting a genetic defect. It can be achieved with the introduction of a normal wild-type transgene into specific cells of the patient where the endogenous gene is underexpressing or by the introduction of a therapeutic agent, such as, antisense oligonucleotides (AON) or small interfering RNA (siRNA) to inhibit transcription and/or translation of an overexpressing endogenous gene or a cancer causing oncogene. Gene therapy has been utilized for vaccination and for the treatment of several diseases, such as, cancer, viral infections and dermatological diseases. However, there are many hurdles to overcome in developing effective gene-based therapeutics, including cellular barriers, enzymatic degradation and rapid clearance after administration. Successful transfer of nucleic acids (e.g. plasmid DNA, AON, siRNA, small hairpin RNA and micro RNA) into cells usually relies on the use of efficient carriers, commonly viral or non-viral vectors. Presently, viral vectors are more efficient than non-viral systems. However, immunogenicity, inflammatory reactions and problems associated with scale-up limit their clinical use. The ideal carriers for gene delivery should be safe and yet ensure that the DNA/RNA survives the extra- and intracellular environment and efficiently transfer to the appropriate cellular compartments. This review discusses some of the strategies that have been employed to overcome the barriers towards successful gene delivery.
Keywords: Gene therapy, nucleic acids delivery, viral vectors, non-viral vectors, plasmid DNA, antisense oligonucleotides, small interfering RNA, small hairpin RNA, micro RNA
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