Prenatal gene therapy aims to deliver genes to cells and tissues early in prenatal life, allowing correction of a genetic defect, before long-term tissue damage has occurred. In contrast to postnatal gene therapy, prenatal application can target genes to a large population of dividing stem cells, and the smaller fetal size allows a higher vector-to-target cell ratio to be achieved. Early-gestation delivery may allow the development of immune tolerance to the transgenic protein which would facilitate postnatal repeat vector administration if needed.
Targeting particular organs will depend on manipulating the vector to achieve selective tropism and on choosing the most appropriate gestational age and injection method for fetal delivery. Intra-amniotic injection reaches the skin, and other organs that are bathed in the fluid however since gene transfer to the lung and gut is usually poor more direct injection methods will be needed. Delivery to the liver and blood can be achieved by systemic delivery via the umbilical vein or peritoneal cavity. Gene transfer to the central nervous system in the fetus is difficult but newer vectors are available that transduce neuronal tissue even after systemic delivery. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.