A Message from the Director
“The Place” for Gene Therapy
Complex historical forces in the 14th and 15th centuries landed the Dutch in
the sodden “Low Countries,” a part of Europe where nobody else wanted to live.
They faced an immediate problem—what to do with the water? This was an engineering
conundrum of such enormous proportions that it required the cooperation
of every sector of society. And thus evolved the essential Dutch characteristic that
forms the overriding ethos of their culture—cooperation.
We at UAB have benefited substantially from this national virtue. The current
issue of Vector features the many cooperations that have arisen between the Gene Therapy Center and scientific
groups at institutions throughout the Netherlands.
Russel Shorto’s book The Island at the Center of the World highlights the substantial contributions of the Dutch
North American colony to American national character. Indeed, one school of scholarly thought argues that, despite
the fact that we speak English, the Netherlands is our legitimate home country. This is certainly true at the Gene
Therapy Center, where we share their entrepreneurial ethos and commitment to transform ideas into practice.
Through our current cooperations we are developing several novel bench-to-bed gene therapy initiatives that we
hope to implement in human trials during the upcoming year.
The exchanges have been bidirectional and mutually beneficial. For example: The Krumdieck tissue slicer that is
highlighted in the cover story was invented by a UAB scientist; its utility for gene therapy studies was demonstrated
by Birmingham-trained Dutch scientists now on the faculty in Groningen. And data derived from their work was
key to helping the UAB Gene Therapy Center capture a critical NIH clinical translation grant. In another instance, a
UAB M.D./Ph.D. student developed a novel cancer vaccine vector approach during an exchange rotation in
Amsterdam. Studies at the Gene Therapy Center validated the therapeutic potential of this approach, and a human
clinical trial embodying this vector paradigm will begin shortly at the Free University. And so it goes.
It’s no coincidence that gene therapy has attracted such interest in the Netherlands. The Dutch have an enviable
record of embracing experimental therapeutics and piloting phase I trials of new anticancer agents. This experience is
essential for advancing the frontiers of our field. In this context, a recent Gene Therapy Center-Free University virotherapy
clinical trial proposal employs a radically altered adenoviral agent. Gene therapy colleagues have quipped that
we’d “be crazy” to advance such a novel paradigm in today’s sensitive clinical climate. But a well-known Dutch aphorism
recommends, “Just act normal, that’s crazy enough!” So our Dutch-American team proceeded “normally” via the
National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. As a result we have gained full federal support
to carry out this proposal, which will be realized in linked human trials on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Dutch nickname for their capital city of Amsterdam is “Mokum,” deriving from the Yiddish equivalent and
signifying “The Center” or “The Place.” While the Gene Therapy Center has been fortunate to operate within an
international sphere of collaborations, our relationship with the Netherlands has been unique. Our continued
progress in joint projects promises to realize our ultimate aims—new therapies for cancer. We hope that such cooperations
will build further strengths at both ends and help the Netherlands evolve as “The Place” for gene therapy
|David T. Curiel, M.D., Ph.D.|
Director, Gene Therapy Center
Director, Division of Human Gene Therapy
Jeanne and Ann Griffin Chair for Women’s Cancer Research