Since Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is an autosomal recessive disorder due to mutations in the CFTR (Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator) gene, studies towards a gene therapy approach to its treatment followed immediately upon the cloning of the gene. It was demonstrated that the insertion of a single copy of the wild-type gene restored the normal phenotype in CF cells in vitro. Encouraging results were obtained in many in vivo model systems (CF transgenic mice) involving viral as well as non-viral vectors, which demonstrated the recovery of CFTR function in the airways. These results constituted the basis for human studies. Of those with a non-viral approach, a total of seven clinical trials using cationic lipids have reported data on efficiency, efficacy and safety. An effective gene transfer approach for the treatment of CF lung disease is not however imminent: low transfection efficiency and poor maintenance of gene expression are so far the main obstacles on this therapeutic path. On the other hand, no important adverse effects have been documented and repeated administration in humans is possible. The understanding of tissue and cellular barriers is a prerequisite for the development of more efficient non-viral gene therapy protocols for CF patients. While cationic lipids have been shown to be blocked by the mucous airway barrier and not be able to transfect differentiated respiratory epithelial cells, a new class of non-viral vectors, cationic polymers, are endowed with chemical and biological properties that make them more efficient in mediating gene transfer than lipids. Cationic polymers, such as polyethylenimine, are promising vectors for CF lung gene therapy.
Keywords: Non-Viral Approach, Gene Therapy, Cystic Fibrosis, Lung Disease, LIPIDS, Epithelial Cells
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