Human Gene Therapy 32 (11-12):529-534 (2021)

Inmaculada de Melo-Martin
Weill Cornell Medicine--Cornell University
Aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) deficiency constitutes one of the most common hereditary enzyme deficiencies, affecting 35% to 40% of East Asians and 8% of the world population. It causes the well-known Asian Alcohol Flush Syndrome, characterized by facial flushing, palpitation, tachycardia, nausea, and other unpleasant feelings when alcohol is consumed. It is also associated with a marked increase in the risk of a variety of serious disorders, including esophageal cancer and osteoporosis. Our recent studies with murine models have demonstrated that a one-time administration of an adeno-associated virus (AAV) gene transfer vector expressing the human ALDH2 coding sequence (AAVrh.10hALDH2) will correct the deficiency state and prevent alcohol-induced abnormalities of the esophagus and bone. If successful in humans, such strategy would reduce the increased risk-associated disorders such as esophageal cancer and osteoporosis, but also prevent the Asian Alcohol Flush Syndrome. This treatment thus raises ethical concerns: although it would potentially prevent fatal disease, it could also allow affected individuals to drink alcohol without suffering the Asian Alcohol Flush Syndrome and, hence, potentially enable personal destructive behavior. Here we explore the ethical arguments against the development of a gene therapy for ALDH2 deficiency and we find them wanting. We contend that development of such treatments is ethically appropriate and should be part and parcel of the solutions offered against the condition.
Keywords Beneficence  Justice  Gene Therapy  Addiction
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