Spine fusion is a commonly performed yet often unsuccessful surgical procedure. As many as 40% of patients undergoing spine fusion may have a nonunion or failure to form a continuous bone bridge. This clinical challenge has focused much of the attention of osteoinductive bone growth factors toward spine applications. Clinical pilot and pivotal trials will show the feasibility of recombinant and purified bone growth factors to promote spine fusion in humans. Despite this, strategies of gene therapy for spine fusion and other bone healing applications are being pursued. This article reviews the state of the art of local gene therapy and highlights specific issues that must be addressed when pursuing a gene therapy program. Perhaps the most critical step in gene therapy for bone formation is choosing an appropriate osteoinductive gene. Such choices may be limited by differences in efficacy of the chosen gene and availability because of proprietary constraints. The choice of delivery vector is crucial and depends on the potency of the gene and the specific application intended. Establishing the effective dose, transduction time, and gene transfer method are important decisions. The choice of carrier material to form the scaffold for the new bone formation is paramount to successful bone formation. Finally, a strategy for in vitro and in vivo testing must be developed to maximize the chances of success in human trials.

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