The excitement about gene therapy received a serious blow in September 1999 with the death of Jesse Gelsinger. At the time 18 year old Jesse was a participant in a clinical trial for gene therapy to overcome a genetic condition Ornithine Transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency. This documentary “Trial and Error” from the BBC’s flagship Horizon series tells the story of that trial and what went wrong. Although the tone is sometimes unduly sensationalist, it is an excellent introduction to gene therapy. The story is complicated by serious flaws in the conduct of the clinical trial, which can also make this a good vehicle for discussing appropriate procedures in biomedical research.
This episode is from the 2003 season of Horizon. It is frequently repeated on digital TV, particularly the UKTV Documentary channel. It is also available as an off-air recording from the BUFVC (TRILT identifier 001D70CE). Watching the whole episode is time well spent. However, a four and a half minute clip starting at 4:40 with the voiceover “A medical revolution had begun…” and continuing through interviews with French Anderson and Dusty Miller explains the principles of using viral vectors for delivering genes into cells. A transcipt of the programme is available on the BBC website.