Dr. Brian Beard, postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem's lab in the Clinical Research Division, is the recipient of an Excellence in Research Award from the American Society for Gene Therapy (ASGT).
The $500 award, one of six given to honor outstanding abstracts submitted by postdoctoral fellows or students, was presented at the society's annual meeting held June 2-6 in Minneapolis, Minn.
Beard's research focuses on ensuring the safety of gene therapy, a technique that attempts to introduce healthy versions of genes into cells that lack them. Typically, harmless viruses are used as delivery vehicles, or vectors, for the therapeutic genes. After the viral DNA inserts itself into a human chromosome, the therapeutic gene becomes part of the genome. Recent gene-therapy research at other institutions has demonstrated its promise as a cure for a type of childhood immunodeficiency diseases. However, a small number of children in that trial, which took place in France, subsequently developed leukemia after the virus inserted itself into a gene which, when mutated, can cause cancer.
Using animal models, Beard and colleagues have characterized insertions of two types of gene-therapy viruses under study in the Kiem lab and found no evidence of leukemia or other cancer in the animals, regardless of the site of viral insertion. His work suggests that factors in addition to the site of viral insertion contribute to the risk of cancer development from gene therapy.
Beard's future work will focus on identifying additional risk factors associated with gene-therapy vectors including consequences associated with drug selection in these animal models.
ASGT, the largest medical professional organization representing researchers and scientists dedicated to discovering new gene therapies, promotes the exchange and dissemination of information and ideas related to gene therapy.