By Vineeta Chawla:
Biotechnology is the latest area of research. It is changing the way humans live and taking quality to another standard. One of the major areas in biotechnology is the medicine sector. This is one sector in which the most research is taking place and numerous breakthroughs are seen. It is also the sector which raises the maximum number of ethical and legal issues.
The use of biotechnology in the area of medicine is also known as red biotechnology. It is a very large institute in itself. It deals with many major and minor aspects of human life, from a comparatively easy thing like making medicines more effective– cost-wise and effect-wise– to the one of most difficult branches of medicine– curing genetic diseases. Red biotechnology also includes finding medicines for diseases like cancer, tumors and AIDS, improving the already existing techniques for various malignant diseases to decrease the side effects without compromising with the effectiveness, improving drugs and producing the various proteins used in our bodies artificially.
Red biotechnology can be majorly divided into biopharmaceuticals, gene therapy, pharmacogenomics and genetic testing.
Biopharmaceuticals, as the name suggests, deals with pharmaceuticals or drugs that are used as medicines. It mainly deals with synthesis of medicinal drugs that can be proteins (including antibodies that fight infection) or nucleic acids (DNA or RNA). But no chemicals are involved in the synthesis process; instead these are derived from micro-organisms which synthesize them naturally.
The micro-organisms are grown on a large scale then the required product is extracted, purified and then marketed. The organisms are grown in bioreactors at specified temperature, pressure and ph for maximum output. The products so synthesized are cheaper and safer than those chemically made as growing organisms on a large scale is easier than chemically synthesizing the product. Also the purifying is lowered which in turn decreases the price of the medicinal drug.
The first such substance that was approved for therapeutic use was biosynthetic ‘human’ insulin made via recombinant DNA technology. It replaced the pig insulin that was earlier used and revolutionized the industry with its success. Sometimes referred to as rHI, under the trade name Humulin, was developed by Genentech but licensed to Eli Lilly and Company, who manufactured and marketed the product starting in 1982.
Gene therapy is that branch of red biotechnology that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of genetic diseases and some other diseases like cancer. In gene therapy the treatment of involves manipulating genes and correcting defecting genes. Genes are inserted, deleted or modified as the treatment requires. This can provide a permanent or semi permanent cure. The most common form of gene therapy involves the insertion of functional genes into an unspecified genomic location in order to replace a mutated and dysfunctional gene. This technology is still new but has great potential.
Pharmacogenomics and genetic testing both techniques are individual specific. Pahrmacogenomics studies genetic information of the individual and develops drugs that can be inserted into that particular individual. Genetic testing tests the family tree to determine the genetic diseases, sex and carrier screening. It can also be used paternity disputes.
Biotechnology is thus now occupies a major portion of the medicine industry and is revolutionizing the lives of people.