The field of medical biotechnology has made giant strides in recent years, leading to the development of several innovative techniques for preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases. Novel methodologies have significantly contributed towards improving health science, such as the sequencing of the human genome, use of stem cells for regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, development of antibiotics, and the generation of monoclonal antibodies for therapy. The field of Medicine saw a host of biotechnology breakthroughs during the last two decades. In surgical rooms doctors can now operate on patients remotely from their computer screens, guiding robotic arms to an accuracy of a few nanometers. Genetic laboratories equipped with DNA slicing enzymes, a mere sequence of polypeptide chains can make wonders happen. The entire genetic makeup of human beings can be deconstructed into understandable genetic codes.
Let us have a bird’s eye view on some major path-breaking advancements of biotechnology in Medicine.
1. Stem Cell Research
Stem cells can keep dividing infinitely and have the capacity to differentiate into different types body cells, during the early development of an organism. In a laboratory, researchers can program these stem cells to differentiate into specific type of cells. This is where the innovation of biotechnology steps in. Imagine an individual with degenerative spinal disorder that severely impacts their quality-of-life. With the help of stem cell research, it might be possible to grow these stem cells in vitro, in a lab setting, and then implanted back into the affected individual’s body. This would help restore their cognitive acuity, vision, hearing, and other physical features. This may sound far-fetched and like a plot from a sci-fi movie, but the preliminary results have been promising.
2. Human Genome Project
Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international scientific research project coordinated by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Energy. It is often lauded as the one of greatest accomplishments in the human history. It was officially launched in 1990 with the goal of determining the sequence of nucleotide base pairs that make up human DNA. In April 2003, the researchers announced that they had completed a preliminary sequencing of the entire human genome. This work has allowed researchers to begin to understand the blueprint for building a person. The researchers are learning more and more about the functions of genes and proteins, which will help them in identifying genes that cause diseases, and in turn looking for effective treatment.
3. Targeted Cancer Therapies
The standard chemotherapies which are in vogue are toxic for healthy cells. Targeted cancer therapies are drugs that work either by interfering in the function of specific molecules or by only targeting known cancerous cells, in order to minimize damage to healthy cells. National Cancer Institute has underlined the strong prospects of treatments getting individualized based on the unique set of molecular targets produced by the patient’s tumor.
4. 3D visualization and augmented reality for surgery
Surgery is sometimes considered as an unkind though inevitable act on a human body, and medical breakthroughs that make the surgical and healing process more efficient and sans pain is always welcomed. Biotechnology has now made it possible for doctors to view an entire 3D image of the interior of a patient’s body through the use of MRI and CT scans. This facilitates each organ to be precisely projected, so that the surgeon can make small, targeted incisions to minimize bodily trauma to the patient. Furthermore, augmented reality would allow pertinent information to be displayed directly overlaid over the relevant body parts.
5. HPV vaccine
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is one of the causative agents of cervical cancer. It is the second most lethal cancer in women, second only to breast cancer, killing 275,000 women worldwide every year. Therefore, a successful HPV vaccination is considered a major medical accomplishment. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved HPV vaccines like Gardasil and Cervarix for use among females between 9 – 26 years of age.
6. Face Transplants
A face transplant is a process of using skin grafts to replace all or a part of the patient’s face with a donor face. The first partial face transplant was performed in Amiens, France in 2005. The next successful transplant was performed five years later in Spain; this was also the first ever full-face transplant. The transplant patient, whose face was severely damaged in an accident, received a new nose, lips, teeth and cheekbones during the 24-hour long surgery.
Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) is a rather new gene-editing system, hailed as a revolutionary tool in medical research. HIV research is one of its many uses. Researchers can now keep up with the constant genetic mutations by actively testing newly found mutations and constantly editing them to tweak targeted therapies.
8. 3D Printed Organs
Artificial limbs have been in use for a long time, and there has been steady improvement in the mobility and versatility of bionic limbs. Now new advances in bionic technology and 3D printing have taken it even further. It has made it possible to artificially construct internal organs like heart, kidney, and liver. Doctors have been able to successfully implant these into individuals that need them.
9. Nerve Regeneration
Nerve damage resultant of neurodegenerative diseases and spinal cord injury has largely been considered irreversible. However, researchers have made significant progress in synthesizing rare enzymes that promote regeneration and growth of injured nerve cells. Neurotrophins are proteins that promote the development of neurons. It is a sequence of small molecular chains that possess potent neurotrophic properties. Although these neutrophins have some of the shortcomings of protein-based agents, researchers are pursuing this as a possible avenue for nerve regeneration.
10. Brain Signals to Audible Speech
Scientists are working on creating a device that can translate brain signal to audible speech using voice synthesizer. This would serve as an incredible tool in communicating with individuals paralyzed with disease or traumatic injuries. Furthermore, scientists have found that they can use this device on epileptic patients to isolate the source of their seizures.
Thus it can be seen that Medical Biotechnology is one of the most happening research areas globally, having the potential to eventually change human beings to disease free animals and biologically perfect creatures. The rapid progress of modern biotechnology has presented a number of new and unique ethical and social challenges within the context of human medical science. Research in medical biotechnology has led to increased knowledge of disease, acceleration of the treatment process, improved pharmacotherapy for infectious diseases and hope for the struggle against incurable diseases such as ALS, MS and Alzheimer's 1. Medical biotechnology promises major advances in human health and therefore, any limitations on the right to freedom of scientific research should be for significant reasons only, and as least restrictive as possible, so as not to impede scientific wisdom and prevent damage to the scientific undertaking. At the same time a duty exists to ensure that research in this area of biotechnology is conducted in ethically acceptable ways. A balance needs to be struck between recognizing the potential benefits which biotechnology research offers to individuals and the community as a whole, and the duty to ensure that research in this area is conducted ethically.