Man Receives Gene Therapy Injection

11:07 PM EST; September 2, 1999; Colombus, Ohio (AP) -- A 36-year-old traffic controller from South Dakota received a gene-therapy injection for Muscular Dystrophy Thursday, the first to receive such injection. Prof. Jerry Mendell, Chairman of the Department of Neurology at the Ohio State University Medical Center, injected Mr. Donavon Decker's foot with genes for a muscle protein missing because of a genetic error.

"Decker suffers from limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, a disease that he has had for more than 20 years," Muscular Dystrophy Association spokesman Jim Brown said. Decker is the first of an expected six participants to receive the injection in the MDA-funded trial. "We're cautiously optimistic about what this may mean for the future," Brown said. Gene therapy is the insertion of a working gene to compensate for genetic flaws like those that lead to Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive muscle that causes muscle weakness. It is ultimately fatal.

There about are about 40 types of muscular dystrophy. The type that Decker has mostly damages muscles that stabilize the hips and shoulders and often leads to wheelchair use by middle age. One of Decker's foot muscles received the therapeutic genes while the same muscle of the other foot received a "sham" injection. Researchers will then take biopsies to compare the muscles in six weeks, while also monitoring Decker for any adverse reactions.