Herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV tk) gene therapy combined with ganciclovir (GCV) medication is a potential new method for the treatment of malignant glioma. We have used both retrovirus-packaging cells (PA317/tk) and adenoviruses (Adv/tk) for gene therapy for malignant glioma. Retrovirus-packaging cells were used for eight tumors in seven patients and adenoviruses were used for seven tumors in seven patients. As a control group, seven tumors in seven patients were transduced with lacZ marker gene 4-5 days before tumor resection. Safety and efficacy of the gene therapy were studied with clinical evaluation, blood and urine samples, MRI follow-up, and survival of the patients. Four patients with adenovirus injections had a significant increase in anti-adenovirus antibodies and two of them had a short-term fever reaction. Frequency of epileptic seizures increased in two patients. No other adverse events possibly related to gene therapy were detected. In the retrovirus group, all treated gliomas showed progression by MRI at the 3-month time point, whereas three of the seven patients treated with Adv/tk remained stable (p < 0.05). Mean survival times for retrovirus, adenovirus, and control groups were 7.4, 15.0, and 8. 3 months, respectively. The difference in the survival times between the adenovirus and retrovirus groups was significant (p < 0.012). It is concluded that HSV tk gene therapy is safe and well tolerated. On the basis of these results further trials are justified, especially with adenovirus vectors.