Though genetically modified food and crops have gained much international attention but modern biotechnology has been focusing on health sector for decades. Research and development in biotechnology and applications of gene therapy both are related to health these days. Drug development and medical treatment are using most of the techniques of biotechnology. For example both product and process have the basis of genetic engineering. Gene therapy is one tool which is used in the development of new products such as pharmaceuticals.
Vaccines, drugs and Diagnostics:
Synthetic human insulin was the first product which was the biotechnology product. This product was launched in America in 1982. 170 biotechnology drugs got the approval of United States Food and Drug Administration since then. Out of 170 drugs, 113 are in the market and saving lives of many people in the world. 350 biotechnology medicines are still under development which will target 200 diseases. Among these medicines are the medicines which will act against pneumococcal diseases in children, cancer and diabetes. DNA technology is one of the major techniques of biotechnology which is revolutionizing the vaccine development. Though these vaccines are still under the testing conditions but scientists hope that these vaccines will soon replace the other methods of vaccine production. Usually vaccines are made prepared from the live pathogens which are weak or killed pathogens. Vaccines which are prepared from live pathogens have the long-lasting and strong effects against disease than the vaccines prepared from killed pathogens.
Recombinant DNA technology has made it possible that individual proteins are used as antigens in sub-unit vaccines. In DNA vaccines only those genes of the pathogens are used which produce antigens not those genes which can multiply pathogens in the host cells. So DNA vaccines made it possible that they combined the effect of live vaccines along with the dead pathogen vaccines. There are many preventive and therapeutic vaccines for HIV, which are still in trials. But there is bad one bad news that DNA vaccines are only available in developing countries not in poor countries. There are positive points about DN vaccines also. First the cost of DNA is low and it is easy to extract. Second, DNA vaccines remain affective even at low temperatures. But there is one draw back of DNA vaccines that these vaccines may trigger the genes which cause tumors.
There are two areas of modern biotechnology which help in diagnosing the disease. First technique is cell fusion. In this technique self replicating antibodies produce for a specific antigen. Monoclonal antibody tests are very common now in developed countries. Second technique of biotechnology to diagnose diseases is DNA technology. In this technique, DNA probes use isolated segments of DNA; these segments attract the complementary gene sequences from pathogens. This technique is also available in the market and is relatively easy to produce. DNA diagnostics are going to grow in the future and developments are taking place in the production of DNA arrays also called as DNA
chips. Micro-array technique is very helpful. It detects and analyses thousands of genes in only one sample. This technique is expected to increase the efficiency of drug discovery. Tough no drugs have been found through this technique yet.
Human genome project is also another success of biotechnology. Scientists are expecting to decode the whole genome of humans. Through this they will be able to replace defected genes from the genome.
Gene therapy is another technique in which mutant gene of a patient is replaced with the healthy gene. Two types of gene therapy techniques are known yet; germline and stem cell gene therapy. In stem cell gene therapy, patient's DNA is altered in the stem cell. The change in their genetic code becomes genetic and hereditary. Though this technique is useful but it is very complex because it cannot take place until the patient's whole biology is known. In germline gene therapy, changes are made in the DNA in germline of the cell. Another technique of gene therapy is somatic gene therapy. In this technique cells are engineered on localized basis without affecting the genetic blue print of the patient.
All these techniques show that biotechnology has made so much progress in the recent years and yet scientists are performing experiments to make new drugs and vaccines.
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