New research has indicated that the AIDS virus can be used to treat two severe hereditary diseases.After an Italian scientist's "stroke of genius" in 1996, and after years of promising results in the laboratory, double official recognition by one of the most important international scientific journals has now arrived. And six children from all over the world, after three years of treatment, are well and show significant benefits. The announcement was made in two studies published today in Science* by researchers at the San Raffaele Telethon Institute for Gene Therapy (TIGET) in Milan, led by Luigi Naldini, demonstrating that gene therapy vectors derived from the HIV virus works against two severe genetic diseases, metachromatic leukodystrophy and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome. "Three years after the start of the clinical trial," says Naldini, "the results obtained from the first six patients are very encouraging: the therapy is not only safe, but also effective and able to change the clinical history of these severe diseases. After 15 years of effort and our successes in the laboratory, but frustration as well, it's really exciting to be able to give a concrete solution to the first patients," explains the director of TIGET. At the origin of both diseases is a genetic defect that results in the deficiency of a protein essential for the organism in the early years of life. In the case of metachromatic leukodystrophy, which currently lacks any effective treatment, it is the nervous system to be affected: babies with this disease are apparently healthy at birth, but at some point they begin to gradually lose the cognitive and motor skills they have acquired, with no possibility of arresting the neurodegenerative process. Children with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, on the other hand, have a faulty immune system that makes them much more vulnerable than normal to the development of infections, autoimmune diseases and cancer, as well as having a defect in the platelets which causes frequent bleeding.