Description (Brief)
In 1993 doctors administered gene therapy to three-day-old Zachary Riggins at the University of California at San Francisco, using this syringe. Zachary’s treatment was a slight variation on an earlier gene therapy trial first used on Ashanti DeSilva in 1990 (see object 1999.0008.01). Gene therapy refers to a kind of genetic engineering whereby sections of DNA (genes) are introduced into cells in order to treat disease. Zachary suffered from a genetic disorder known as ADA deficiency (also known as ADA-SCID or “bubble boy” syndrome), which led to his having a compromised immune system.
As soon as Zachary was born, doctors harvested blood stem cells from his umbilical cord to be used in gene therapy. They employed a modified virus to insert working copies of the ADA gene into his harvested cells, grew them for some time in the lab, and then injected the modified cells into Zachary’s bloodstream using this syringe. By focusing on stem cells, which are long–lived and give rise to other cells, doctors hoped that the treatment would provide a lasting cure. Previous attempts at gene therapy relied on cells which do not replicate, meaning that patients needed a new round of gene therapy each time the treated cells died off.
While the reintroduced stem cells did remain in the Zachary’s bloodstream for a long time, so few of them had been successfully transformed by the gene therapy that the treatment did not have the hoped-for impact.
Accession file
“Brave New Babies.” Leon Jaroff. Time Magazine.Vol. 175. No. 21. 31 May 1993.
“Engraftment of gene-modified umbilical cord blood cells in neonates with adenosine deaminase defieciency.” Donald B. Kohn et al. Nature Medicine. Vol. 1, Issue 10. October 1995. p. 1017.
“Gene Therapy: Treating the bubble babies.” Public Health Genetics Unit, Wellcome Trust. 21 November 2002.
The Forever Fix: Gene Therapy and the Boy Who Saved It. Ricki Lewis. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2012.
Currently not on view
date used
associated date
Blaese, R. Michael
Riggins, Zachary
associated place
United States: California, San Francisco
Physical Description
plastic (overall material)
rubber (overall material)
average spatial: 12.5 cm x 3 cm x 2.1 cm; 4 29/32 in x 1 3/16 in x 13/16 in
overall: 3/4 in x 1 1/4 in x 5 in; 1.905 cm x 3.175 cm x 12.7 cm
ID Number
catalog number
nonaccession number
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Medicine
Science & Mathematics
Biotechnology and Genetics
Health & Medicine
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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