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Applications of Biotechnology in Medicine

Biotechnology in Medicine

Biotechnology and medicine intersect in interdisciplinary medical research, offering a spectrum of valuable health products. This integration of biology and technology represents the hallmark of the 21st century, leveraging genetic manipulation to scale up production of biological components. The expansive realm of biotechnology extends to the creation of technologies and products aimed at enhancing sustainable development, utilizing molecular and cellular processes to advance various sectors including medicine, agriculture, and food processing.

Biotechnological applications in the field of medicine

In the modern era, biotechnology and medicine are inexorably linked. Following the culmination of the Human Genome Project, the wealth of data and insights it provided has spurred advancements across various domains of biotechnology in medicine. These include:

1. Genetically engineered human insulin 

Eli Lilly, an American company, achieved a significant breakthrough in 1983 by manufacturing the first human insulin using genetically engineered Escherichia coli bacteria. This human insulin, marketed as Humulin, consists of 51 amino acids structured into two polypeptide chains, A and B, connected by disulfide bonds. Additionally, it removes a C peptide segment to form a single proinsulin unit.

2. Medically important proteins

Genetic engineering techniques produce tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a naturally occurring human protein that the body generates in small quantities to break down blood clots, potentially reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Atrial peptides, utilized in managing conditions like hypertension and kidney failure, are also among these proteins. Additionally, genetic engineering methods create recombinant proteins and hormones, such as follicle-stimulating hormone for stimulating ovulation, DNAse I for cystic fibrosis treatment, and clotting factors VIII and IX for managing hemophilia A and B.

3. Gene therapy

Gene therapy involves the treatment of a hereditary disorder caused by a single defective gene. It replaces the defective or lethal gene with a much healthier one. It is of two types:

  • Germline therapy – a functional gene is introduced into the germ cells such as the sperm, ovum, or zygote for replacing the defective gene. It has not been used by humans till now but is carried out in farm animals.
  • Somatic gene therapy – the functional gene is introduced into the somatic or normal mitotic cells.

Gene therapy is categorised into two broad divisions:

  • Ex-vivo gene therapy – In this procedure, medical professionals extract the patient’s lymphocytes and culture them outside the body. They then introduce a functional gene into a vector molecule and insert it into the lymphocyte. Afterward, they return the genetically modified lymphocyte to the patient’s bloodstream. Over time, this functional gene replaces the defective gene.
  • In-vivo gene therapy – in this, there is a direct gene transfer either locally to a particular organ or intravenously. This method involves directly transferring the genetic components into the targeted cell for treating mutations or missing genes.

4. Piggyback vaccines

Subunit vaccines harness genetically modified benign viruses to combat viral diseases like hepatitis B, herpes, and rabies. These engineered viruses replicate within cultured mammalian cells, generating numerous copies. When introduced into the bodies of rabbits or mice, they trigger the production of antibodies against targeted viruses, thereby conferring immunity.

Molecular diagnosis

PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction):
  • PCR rapidly amplifies genes or DNA segments.
  • It produces millions of copies for analysis.
  • Used for early detection of DNA traces, bacterial or viral presence, often before symptoms manifest.
  • Applications include HIV, AIDS, and identifying gene mutations in suspected cancer patients.
ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay):
  • Based on antigen-antibody interactions.
  • Detects infections via glycoproteins on antigens or antibodies produced in response.
  • Useful for diagnosing various diseases based on specific immune responses.
Monoclonal Antibodies:
  • Generated through recombinant DNA technology, particularly hybridoma technology.
  • Created by fusing B cells or B lymphocytes with myeloma or cancer cells.
  • Used prominently in cancer detection.
  • Enable highly specific targeting of cancer cells, aiding in diagnosis and treatment.

Pharmacogenomics investigates how an individual’s genetic makeup influences their response to medications, guiding the development of tailored drugs. This field finds utility in various conditions including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, HIV, diabetes, and asthma, revolutionizing treatment approaches.


Biotechnology’s impact on medicine is extensive, with over 200 registered companies in the USA alone dedicated to this field. Beyond personalized medical treatments, vaccine production, gene therapy, and hormone and protein synthesis, its applications span various biological disciplines. These encompass tissue culture, the production of transgenic plants and animals for human benefit, the generation of antibodies, construction of gene libraries, creation of environmentally friendly bacteria for soil fertility enhancement or waste reduction, and utilization in forensic science for criminal identification, among others.

Read also: Principles of Biotechnology

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