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    Biotechnology in modern medicine

    March 23 2023

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    Reading time 9 minutes

    Contents

    Medical biotechnology is a discipline developing new methods of treatment and diagnostics at the level of cells and tissues. This article will describe tasks faced by specialists and solutions that could help achieving significant progress.

    What is medical biotechnology?

    Biotechnology is a multidisciplinary field in which cells and molecules of cellular origin are used for various purposes1.

    Biotechnology is divided into several areas. Specialists assign each with their own color, with red correspoing to medical biotechnology. Within this direction, modern methods of treatment and diagnostics are being developed to improve human life1:

    • vaccines;

    • antibodies;

    • therapeutic proteins;

    • antibiotics;

    • preparations based on stem cells;

    • gene therapy;

    Biotechnological products are in demand in the treatment of cancer, immunotherapy, the fight against antibiotic resistance, tissue regeneration and other important areas2.

    Molecular engineering of DNA and proteins

    Genomic engineering is the science that deals with the study and alteration of the DNA sequence. Genomic engineering methods comprise editing the genome, or a set of genes, and editing individual genes3.

    Biotechnologists are developing various gene editing systems:

    • CRISPR-Cas. The system that performs the immune function in microorganisms. It prevents them from being infected by viruses or phages that carry their own genetic material. The active element of the system is the Cas protein, which is able to cleave foreign DNA and protect the host4.

    • “Zinc finger” nuclease consists of two components: synthetic proteins with a zinc ion that bind to a specific short stretches of DNA and nuclease, an enzyme that can break down DNA. Together they work like genomic scissors, separating the nucleotide sequence5.

    • TALE is a protein derived from the Xanthomonas plant bacteria. TALE recognizes a specific section of DNA, and then the nuclease makes a “cut”6.

    CRISPR-CAS, ZNF and TALEN are used in medicine to model human diseases in animals and cells. Gene editing systems are used for molecular diagnostics and treatment of genetic and oncological diseases4.

    Regenerative medicine

    Regenerative medicine is concerned with developing solutions to replace lost tissues and organs or speed up their healing.

    “Red” biotechnology uses stem cells, turning them into other cells with a specialized function – nerve or heart, liver or blood. Stem cells come from the embryo and from adult tissues such as bone marrow or fat. Ordinary adult cells can be “reprogrammed” into stem cells7.

    One of the methods of tissue repair is bioprinting. Stem cells are placed on natural or synthetic material. 3D printing equipment is used to create voluminous fabric. In the printed tissue, the formation of vessels and nerves is stimulated by the addition of growth factors and progenitor cells8.

    The transplantation of bioprinted products is aimed at accelerating healing in cases of significant tissue loss, as in the case of a serious bone injury. Cartilage has a limited ability to regenerate, so the printed version can be a suitable replacement for the destroyed one. Research is being carried out in the field of printing skin, nervous tissue, and liver cells9.

    Applied immunology

    Research in a medical laboratory

    An antibody is a protein produced by the body with the help of the immune system. The antibody protects against foreign substances, or antigens, which can be either microorganisms or chemicals10.

    “Red” biotechnology studies monoclonal antibodies. These are biomolecules that can recognize a specific section of an antigen. The “mother” of monoclonal antibodies is called a hybridoma, which is a cell line that is derived from the fusion of B-lymphocytes, immune cells that produce antibodies, and myeloma tumor cells11.

    Monoclonal antibodies are used in medicine to treat many pathologies11:

    • malignant tumors: melanoma, metastatic breast cancer, leukemia, colorectal cancer;

    • chronic diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, psoriasis;

    • preventing of organ rejection after transplantation.

    Cell therapy is a biotechnology-based therapeutic approach using living cells12:

    • The injected cell is able to interact with other cells and tissues of the body, respond to chemical, physical and biological stimuli.

    • Stem cells and T cells are more commonly used.

    • Approved products are used for the treatment of malignant hematologic diseases and immunodeficiencies, as well as for tissue repair.

    Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of cells, tissues and organs from a non-human donor. Its development is associated with a shortage of human donors who could provide organs for transplantation. In the treatment of certain diseases, human material is often unavailable13.

    In early studies, primates were considered as donors. Since the 1990s, pigs have taken their place. They grow quickly, and their anatomy and physiology are similar to those of a human. The heart, kidneys and liver are considered as potential organs for xenotransplantation14.

    One of the problems of xenotransplantation is the human immune response to pig antigens. To reduce the risk of rejection, animal organs are genetically modified to reduce the activity of antigens. The application of immunosuppressive therapy helps to suppress the activity of immune cells15.

    Vaccine development

    Researcher working with a blood sample

    Biotechnology is involved in the development of modern vaccines types16,17:

    1. The vaccine material is a bacterium that normally lives in the body, or a microorganism that causes a mild infection. They are genetically modified so that the immune system sees them as a more formidable adversary than it really is.

    2. Engineered viruses. New fragments are added to the DNA of the virus. The modified virus leads to the formation of a number of foreign proteins. This way it is possible to provide protection from several infectious diseases at once.

    3. DNA vaccines. Uses DNA fragments encoding foreign proteins, which are then supplemented with sequences of proteins that enhance the immune response. The material is combined and processed. A plasmid is obtained, which enters the body together with the vaccine. The plasmid is inserted into the host cell which then synthesizes foreign proteins, causing an immune response.

    Adjuvant vaccines consist of two components18:

    • antigen – a foreign protein or polysaccharide to which the immune system reacts;

    • adjuvant – a substance that enhances the immune response.

    Adjuvants have helped develop vaccines against human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases the risk of certain types of cancer. Approved vaccines use aluminum hydroxide or aluminum hydroxyphosphate as adjuvants19.

    Nanobiotechnology

    Nanobiotechnology works at the molecular and cellular levels. The application of nanoparticles has great potential in the following areas20:

    • Cancer therapy. Nanoparticles are able to ensure the delivery and distribution of medicine in the tumor site. Special molecules or monoclonal antibodies are added to the surface of the nanoparticles to improve tumor recognition.

    • Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Biological materials, including nanoparticles, nanotubes, and nanofibers, are a suitable medium for cell growth and development.

    • Detection of biomolecules. Nanoparticles are able to detect viruses, hormones, antigens, DNA.

    • Antimicrobial activity. Nanomaterials with metal ions, such as silver, can inhibit the vital activity of bacteria that are resistant to conventional therapy.

    Nanoparticles can be smaller than one micrometer and come in a variety of shapes, such as tubes, spheres, or crystals21.

    Sources

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