A team of researchers led by Professor Martin Fussenegger from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich has built a network of genes that permanently keep the uric acid concentration in check, thus providing relief to gout sufferers. And this treatment could also result in therapies for a range of other medical conditions, including diabetes and obesity.
In most mammals, the enzyme urate oxydase controls the uric acid level. However, as humans evolved from the apes, they lost this enzyme. The Swiss researchers set about finding a way to rectify the defect and restore the subtle control of the uric acid level. They determined that implanting a small plastic capsule under the skin loaded with genetically engineered cells taken from the patients themselves would work as a synthetic organ to balance the body's chemicals and hormones, according to the U.K.'s Independent.
Tests on laboratory mice have shown the technique can successfully treat the symptoms of gout, and human clinical trials could begin in two years, scientists report in the journal Nature Biotechnology. The team hopes to adapt the technique so that the cells can be programmed to deal with other metabolic disorders, such as the hormonal imbalances leading to diabetes and obesity. "We're confident that our network will complete all the necessary series of tests in the not too distant future, but in our experience it takes longer than you might hope for a finished product to reach the market," says Fussenegger in a statement.