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Biotechnology Could Eradicate Diseases, Improve Life – Here’s How

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By Santosh Kumar Maharana:

Biotechnology is the term made by fusion by of two words. The first one is Biology and the second one is Technology. Biotechnology is the integrated and control use of Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Immunology, Genetic Engineering (Recombinant DNA Technology), Biological Agents (Cellular Component, Protein, and DNA), Plant Tissue Culture, and Animal Tissue Culture for our benefit to improve the variety of microorganisms, plants, and animals.

Biotechnology is a very vast area in the field of research. Progress in biotechnology is currently working on environmentally-friendly biodegradation processes for a cleaner, healthier planet, experimenting with until-now untapped energy sources, and devising useful consumer chemicals such as adhesives, detergents, dyes, flavors, perfumes, and plastics.

With the progress seen thus far in the fight against deadly diseases such as polio and small pox, it is not beyond reason that biotechnology may hold the promise for effective treatments or even cures for, say, cancer and AIDS. Gene therapy may well become the method whereby we correct congenital disease caused by faulty genes. Stem cell research may prove the panacea for Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and muscular dystrophy. Also, given the genetic improvements made with crop yield and nutritive value, world hunger and malnutrition may witness their denouement with the continual advancement of biotechnology.

The techniques of biotechnology which are commonly used in present as well as for future point of view are Plant Tissue Culture (Somatic Hybridization, Protoplast Culture, Disease Free Plants, Cryopreservation, Somaclonal Variation, etc.), Plant Breeding, Micropropagation, Genetic Engineering, Molecular Biology, Stem Cell, and Cancer Cell. We must try to develop very novel variety of vaccine/ drugs etc. to cure persons who are suffering from disease and also for those who are not disease but are at a risk of the disease. We must try to develop medicines or drugs for treatment of cancer which would be helpful for the persons who have been suffering from cancer. By use of recombinant DNA technology we must try to synthesize r-DNA (which codes for the viral coat protein) and insert this recombinant DNA into the host cell (human being).

We must try to control and regulate the cell-division through gene therapy technology which is very helpful for prevention of tumors in cancer patients. This can be possible by regulating the expression of gene (controlled expression) or by replacing the mutated gene once. 50% or more cancer is due to mutation in a particular gene, so the need is to replace the mutated ones with new in diseased persons. Many genes are also responsible for causing cancer. When we find out the defect we can cure the disease fully or up to some extent. Cancer is very widely and rapidly spread disease throughout the world. No treatment is available for that so the people suffering from the disease get cured. Many people die every year and the rate of death is increasing every year.

Gene Therapy

Altogether, there are about 5,000 known human genetic diseases (e.g. cystic fibrosis, which affects mainly northern Europeans, sickle cell anemia which affects mainly Africans, and hemophilia, which devastated many branches of European royalty). In fact, all of us have approximately half a dozen to a dozen genes which are potentially lethal.

In gene therapy, a “bad” gene can be corrected by inserting the “good”  gene into a vector (usually a virus which has been rendered harmless) and then infecting the patient with the virus. The virus then multiplies rapidly, injecting the “good” gene into the cells of the patient. Infected cells can also be grown and cultivated outside the body in order to increase their number and then injected back into the body. The ultimate goal is to infect virtually all the cells of the body to replace the deficient gene, which is still an elusive goal.

SCIDS (bubble boy syndrome) in which children lack a fully functioning immune system was the first disease to be treated successfully with this method. Affected children can now live outside an artificial sealed environment.

The first patient with Alzheimer’s disease to be treated with gene therapy was a 60 year old woman. She was injected with cells treated with nerve growth factor in hopes of preventing cell brain cell death that typifies Alzheimer’s.

Cloning

First, a large number of fetuses must be sacrificed in the process of producing one healthy clone. This is because the methods of cloning are still quite crude and largely hit-or-miss because of the trauma introduced by re-activating the cell reproduction mechanisms.

Second, a large number of genetic defects are introduced by the process of cloning, injuring the health of the animal. Cloned animals may look normal but actually suffer from obesity, premature aging, arthritis, or any number of other medical problems. By analyzing the genes of the cloned animals, scientists at MIT’s Whitehead Institute analyzed 10,000 genes of cloned mice and could see quite clearly the large number of genetic mutations introduced by the cloning process. A cloned mouse, for example, may have several hundred flawed genes.

However, within five years, it is conceivable that some unscrupulous scientist will attempt the first human cloning.

Stem cells:

This gives the promise of eventually creating a “human body shop,” whereby human organs will be replaced as they wear out, get diseased, or injured.

When tissue engineering technology is married to stem cell technology, within five years one should be able to grow more complex organs like the liver and the pancreas (which involve only a handful of different tissues).  This may have a dramatic effect on liver transplants and also treating diabetes. More complex organs, because they involve many different types of tissues with very complex geometries, are for the future.

Medicine

This period will usher in the era of “molecular medicine.” The trial-and-error approach used for the last 4,000 years in medicine will gradually be replaced by understanding the molecular and genetic nature of disease and the function of the body.

Agriculture

Because plants are easier to manipulate than animals, progress in applying this technology to plants and food crops will progress much faster than for animals. Humans have been cloning plants (e.g. in the form of cuttings) and manipulating their genes (by hybridization and breeding) for millennia. Many of the main crops cultivated on earth (e.g. corn) are the product of thousands of years of gene manipulation by humans. Also, compared to animals, plants have a shorter life cycle, fewer genes in general, are easier to handle, and present fewer ethical issues.

Within the next five years, all the main commercially viable food crops will have their complete genome read. This, in turn, will make possible the application of this technology for the Third World. Because of relatively low start-up costs, even countries like Cuba have a vigorous and growing biotech industry for agriculture.

The future for biotechnology is a chest of ineffable promise the quality of life improved, diseases expunged, hunger terminated, and untold possibilities broached. We all await the future. Quite possibly, the next chapter in the Information Age may be the “Age of Biotechnology.”

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  1. drskm7

    Old article from me

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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