*This web page was produced as an assignment for an undergraduate course at Davidson College



Science Daily's article on the HSC gene therapy in ALD patients


The Science Daily article is a direct review of this article in Science. The article provides a rough overview of the general methods that were used in the study, and it does so in a way that is accessible to the reader (with little science jargon and thorough explanations of the topics stated). Additionally, the article provides the reader with a brief background of the Adrenoleukodystrophy disease. The authors stay within the boundaries that are set by the paper they are reviewing, and they do not jump to any irrational conclusions or overstatements–rather, they correctly state the potential importance of the study as a treatment for other diseases. They also correctly indicate that the results remain promising, even though the study size was too small for any conclusions to be reached. The article is concluded with the potential side-effects (cancers) of viral vector gene therapy, and it makes the reader ponder whether gene therapy is indeed worth the risk.

Figure 1: A pictorial summary of the methods used in the study reviewed by Science Daily. Image from Science Daily, 2009. Permission Pending.


The article gives a brief glimpse into the world of gene therapy by citing a contextually relevant article. However, it lacks many substantial facts and figures that could make the article much more persuasive and comprehensible. First, the article lacks substantial background information that would make the story more interesting. It only mentions that," ALD is a severe hereditary condition caused by a deficiency of a protein called ALD that is involved in fatty acid degradation. Sufferers steadily lose their myelin sheath, the protective layer that coats nerve fibers in the brain. Without myelin the nerves lose function, leading to increasing physical and mental disability in patients." However, there is much more to Adrenoleukodystrophy than just the disease. What about the functional ALD protein? The ABCD1 gene that codes the protein? How does the protein lose its natural function? Touching on these topics would provide more depth to the story, and allow the reader to gain more thorough understanding. Additionally, the article does not provide any information pertaining to the other manifestations of ALD. Thus, it assumes that the reader has a background knowledge of the ALD protein, its gene, and the ALD manifestations! Second, no evidence is provided to the reader so that the reader can evaluate the effectivness of the gene therapy on the ALD afflicted patients. Instead, the authors tell the readers how effective the gene therapy was by indicating that the “patients showed neurological improvement and delay in disease progression." A picture similar to Figure 2 would be a good way for the authors to support their claims, and allow the readers to determine make up their own mind as to the treatments effectiveness. Last, the article does not provide an idea as to where the field of gene therapy is going. The article simply cites that "there is a lot of work to be done to make this gene therapy vector more powerful, less complicated, and less expensive. This is only the beginning." It additionally mentions that the gene therapy vector has potential to be applied to other diseases. However, it would be helpful to supplement this information with more specific future applications and research.


"True descendants of Preometheus, science writers take the from the scientific Olympus, the laboratories, and the universities, and bring it down to the people"– William Laurence, cited by Kua et al.

In her article, Kua et al., argues that a scientific writer should serve three roles: to be an intermediary that provides translation, a watchdog that discusses the implications of scientific work, and a tool-giver that gives context, significance, and a thorough explanation. If these standards are held in comparison to the Science Daily article, then the authors would fulfill the intermediary and watchdog role, as they provide a down-to-earth description of the experiment, and the problems with using such methods. However, the authors of the article would not fulfill the role of tool-giver. The article lacks information, details, and figures that would allow the reader to evaluate the evidence for his or herself, and give a more thorough understanding of the disease being examined. Additionally, the authors provided little insight as to the future of gene therapy, and they did not mention the role of a nonmutated ABCD1 gene and its gene product. These facts and figures would greatly improve the content of the article, and in doing so, would relay to the reader the amazing potential that gene therapy has.



Eunice Kua, Michael Reder, and Martha J. Grossel. 2004. Science in the News: A Study of Reporting Genomics. Public Understanding of Science. 13: 309–322.

Science Daily. Gene Therapy Technique Slows Brain Disease ALD Featured In Movie 'Lorenzo's Oil'. Science Daily [internet]. 2009 Nov 5 [cited 21 January]. Available from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091105143706.htm










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