Synthetic biology is at the forefront of developments in various important fields, healthcare being just one of these areas. This branch of science is expected to make a bold difference to medicine with on-going research in healthcare, projects in waste remediation, the life sciences, as well as the creation of specialty chemicals.
Researchers believe that by pursuing advancements in this hybrid discipline, where they boldly redesign biological components and systems, they will be able to develop new sets of treatments. While it is good for the public to manage expectations regarding these innovations, the fact remains that synthetic biology offers patients reasons to hope.
Take for example, efforts to re-engineer human embryonic kidney cells that mimic the functions of the pancreas’ beta cells. Normally, the immune system of patients with diabetes destroy these beta cells resulting to impaired to zero pancreas function. While the development is still years away from being approved and adapted in a large scale setting, it’s something diabetics can look forward to in the near future.
SynbiCITE, a leading UK synthetic biology company, makes use of microscopic creatures of nature such as molecules, microbes, and enzymes to produce food, fabricate materials and safeguard human health. They can even protect the environment by creating sustainable solutions that service people’s needs.
Dr. Richard Kitney, SynbiCITE’s Co-Director, explains that humans and industries must understand the DNA code of these microscopic creatures in order to be able to re-draw them. From there, humans can design “new materials, new products, and new drugs”.
“new materials, new products, and new drugs”
When it comes to vaccines and cancer treatment, synthetic biology is also growing exponentially. Dr. Lisa Caproni, Group Leader of research team from Torchlight Genetics, London paints a clear picture of what they do. She says traditional vaccines are made from hen eggs, but it takes a very long lime – at least six months – to stockpile enough doses for an entire population for the coming season.
Synthetic biology is opening up a field of personalized treat medicine for vaccines, cancer treatments and many more.
“Where we are now is being able to look at a patient and say ok, we know the profile. We understand perfectly how the normal tissue is behaving. You can work out what mutations are causing that cancer; and from that position you can then predict that this patient will respond to this kind of treatment,” said Caproni in a video documentary called “Nature Knows Best”.
The possibilities and applications of synthetic biology can be considered boldly disruptive but in a positive way. New drugs are invented, devices developed as well as new techniques for the delivery of new treatments or therapies.
Mckinsey.com reports on different areas of medicine where the use of synthetic biology holds most promise.
- Gastroenterology – work is currently being done to engineer the food bacteria called Lactococcus Lactis. Scientists are reprogramming the bacteria’s DNA in order to come up with an amnti-inflammatory agent which could help arrest ulcers and Crohn’s disease.
- Medical Devices – a company called Tepha is developing a polymer that can be used to create different medical devices, textile products, sutures, films as well as medical devices.
- Microbiome – mibrobiome refers to the bacteria that live inside the human gut; they affect digestion and infection control. Scientists are engineering probiotic bacteria from the microbiome to help advance medical treatments. Examples of these are urea cycle disorder as well as phenylketonuria, a condition wherein a person is unable to break down phenylalanine, a type of amino acid.
- Oncology – next generation and highly targeted cancer therapies are being developed in different laboratories. Among them are engineered immune cells which have on and off switches as well as synthetic receptors which would one day be able to recognize cancer cells.
- Genetic diseases – researchers are using advanced genetic editing techniques to treat genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
Synthetic biology’s biggest triumph in the health industry was the development of the anti-malaria medicine Artemisinin. This has changed millions of lives and made the treatment readily available and cost-effective across the world. This was the game-changer for the hybrid field. Up until then it was not being taken seriously by the scientific and medical world.
Today, synthetic biology is seen as one of the biggest waves affecting the future. It will drastically change how medical treatments are developed and administered, as well as how healthcare is implemented in the years to come.