Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. Science, Technology and Society Program


James R. Fleming

Second Advisor

Gail Carlson


The controversial field of gene therapy has faced much scrutiny in the media over the last two decades. After scientists determined the structure and function of DNA in the mid 20th century, three molecular biology techniques, sequencing, recombinant DNA and the polymerase chain reaction, set the stage for gene therapy. The goal of the therapy is to replace a person’s dysfunctional gene with a copy of the correct one that tells the body how to make a particular essential product. Scientists must test the therapy in people through clinical trials before they can gain approval from the FDA to become available to the public. The results of these trials often become the target of media-generated hype. This project aimed to evaluate the current and future sentiment about gene therapy in the print news media and other sources of media, respectively. Through an examination of primary (Molecular Therapy), intermediate (Science), and mainstream print media (The New York Times), two case studies of clinical trials provide dichotomous examples of the portrayal of gene therapy in the print media. Trials for a metabolic disorder (Ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency) and a type of inherited blindness (Leber’s congenital amaurosis) illustrate how the media frames the results of these clinical trials. In looking at other sources of printed media, literature analyzing the value of gene therapy in society tended to predict a dystopian future in which humans are free of disease and organized into classes based on the quality of their genomes. From the negative sentiments regarding gene therapy in media for both current and future state of gene therapy, the future of this technology might not survive. New medical treatments take time to grow into the potential that surrounds their initial emergence onto the scientific stage, even with its successes and drawbacks, we must give gene therapy enough time for a fair trial.


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Gene Therapy, Print Media, Press Coverage, Clinical Trial, Medical Biotechnology

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