Genes and Medicine in Biotechnology
A gene refers to the most basic biological unit of heredity. It is a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) segment, which contributes to a function and may be characterized by homology or sequence. A gene can also be defined as a sequence of bases. These bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G) (“Medical Definition of Gene”). The combination of these elements determines the function of a specific gene. A person usually has thousands of genes made up of billions of base pairs that determine a person’s characteristics. Studies in gene date back to 1869, when the chemical material DNA was discovered in cells. However, during that time, the real function of the DNA was unknown. The term “gene” was first used in 1909. Many discoveries were made during the later years, with notable improvements in 1956, when DNA was being created artificially. The first single gene was isolated in 1969 (“Medical Definition of Gene”). In the following year, the first artificial gene was made. Currently, the units of heredity are used in numerous medicine areas including research, making medicine, clinical practice, genetic counseling, clinical diagnostic and laboratory activities.
Use of Genes in Medicine
Notably, with new developments, research and laboratory projects, myriad applications of genes in medicine have been realized. Drug manufacturing plants form part of the gene uses. Plants are applied in medicine in diverse areas, for example, making vaccines. Specialists genetically engineer plants to produce human antibodies and hormones. Bananas are an example of plants genetically engineered to make human vaccines (“Making Medicines”). Scientists require transgenic plant during this process. Transgenic plants are prepared by mixing foreign DNA with protoplasts. A small electric current is passed through the mixture of foreign DNA and protoplasts to make tiny holes in the cell and allow foreign DNA to enter. The protoplast is left to grow into a plant. Once the plant is fully developed, medicine is extracted from its seeds.
Moreover, genes are used in bacteria to make medicine. Thus, the bacteria are first specially modified by scientists and referred to as transgenic bacteria. An example of this technology includes making of insulin. In the past, if one had diabetes, doctors prescribed insulin to the patient, which would have been gotten from a pig. Another alternative was extracting it from human cadavers, which is not only costly but also disturbing for many people (“Making Medicines”). Furthermore, with the genes technology, bacteria are now used to make medicines and vaccines. This is made possible by the single-celled characterization of foreign units of heredity. Notably, when injected with foreign genes, the bacteria live and produce like other normal organisms. The product contains human proteins, used for vaccines and medicines.
Genes are used in farm animals to produce drugs and vaccines. “Gene pharming” is the term applied to describe the process as mentioned earlier. The first step entails creating transgenic farm animals. During this process, scientists use a needle, thinner than a human hair to inject foreign DNA sequence (“Making Medicines”). An example includes making of antithrombin III. Its function entails preventing blood clotting when a person is undergoing surgery. A DNA sequence for antithrombin III is injected into goat eggs. The transgenic eggs are then transplanted into female goats. Afterwards, antithrombin III is extracted from the milk of these goats’ milk. Scientists are also planning to use the genetic technologies in making “magic bullets” drugs (“Making Medicines”). These drugs are to be designed in such a way to target specific antigens but leave healthy tissues untouched. Germline gene therapy is a well-known application of gene in medicine. The therapy involves transferring DNA to cells, which produce reproductive cells including sperms and eggs. This therapy enables disease-causing gene variants to be corrected. Therefore, these dangerous units are prevented from passing down from one generation to another (“Is Germline Gene Therapy Ethical?”).
The use of this genetic alteration enables the correction of disease-causing mutations, thus enabling generations to lead a healthy life. The future descents are also spared from suffering the corrected disease (“Is Germline Gene Therapy Ethical?”). Another additional advantage of this gene alteration is the reduction of healthcare costs. This is achieved when the genetic condition is completely removed, thus preventing future expenses that would have been incurred in treating the disease. Germline gene therapy also has the capacity to resecting certain genetic conditions from the population. Example of a disease that can be eliminated is Huntington’s disease, in the same way, which global vaccination programs have eradicated maladies like polio.
Another use of genes in medicine is an application of somatic gene therapy, which is slightly familiar with germline gene therapy. However, the two types of cure use different types of cells. In somatic gene therapy, accordingly, somatic cells are used, which make up most of the body. Example of them includes cells of the bone marrow. The Tech website (“Making Medicines”) asserts that in this therapy, the new DNA does not enter reproductive cells unlike in the germline gene therapy. The technique involves transferring appropriate and normal alleles to the patient. This therapy permanently corrects the recipient’s disorder. The cells are inserted into the bone marrow cells of the patient, which continuously divides during an individual’s life to produce blood cells. This therapy is employed to correct many disorders such as in utero to avert a disease that may impair a baby’s health.
Genes in medicine are applied in confirming a diagnosis and predicting a possible disorder when using laboratory genetic tests. For instance, a disorder in an unborn child can be predicted and prevented from developing into a fatal condition that may not only affect the baby but also the mother. In addition to predicting illnesses, medical genetics also enables healthcare professionals to use a person’s genotype information to prescribe closely tailored drugs.
Use of genes in medicine is still in its developing stages. Many ethical considerations are facing the practice, as new others continue arising. One of the primary consideration is the privileges and control of genetic information. The concern above arises when inherited genetic characteristics or gene products are derived from an individual or a specific community. The healthcare professionals and researchers are faced with a dilemma on who to possess the rights. Potential owners and controllers include the individual, the society involved, the research sponsor, the laboratory used, the national government, the global society and research institutes. A potential conflict would transpire and divide the involved party, thereby leading to possible conflicts.
Reproductive issues are another ethical implication associated with the use of genes in medicine. Using the genetic information in reproductive cells creates the possibility of those genetically altered reproductive cells being passed on to future generations. Germline gene therapy is an example of this practice. It encompasses genetically manipulating reproductive cells to correct disease-causing gene variants and prevent them from moving down to the next generations. The ethical implications arise since it is possible for judgment or technology errors occurring. These may have far-reaching consequences once passed on from one generation to another. Additionally, these errors may lead to damage to healthy cells, causing diseases, such as cancer. The virus used in the genetic alteration may also recover their original ability once introduced in the body, thus causing illnesses or diseases. Other issues associated with productive matters include human cloning, preimplantation genetic diagnosis and designer babies.
The genetic divide is also an ethical implication of using genes in medicine. Most developed countries are extensively involved in medical genetics and research. However, the developing countries are in many ways behind since such nations lack sufficient or required medical applications of biotechnology. The widespread use of medical genetics has the potential to create a genetic divide between the developed and emerging counties. This may be intensified if the developed countries are not willing to share their biotechnology developments and genetic products with the developing countries. The deprivation may arise when the researchers and healthcare professionals in developed countries feel that it is not right to share genetic information accrued from their people.
Medical genetics has effects on social institutions, which is another ethical implication. Genetic laboratory tests disclose information concerning the individual or the group of people involved. Information from one person can also be used to reveal more details about his or her family. This may lead to privacy issues, especially if other people in research access the genetic information, or if the report is published in a research paper or journal. According to The Tech (“Making Medicines”), privacy issues are publicized, the victims fall susceptible to discrimination. The discrimination is likely to happen in insurance and employment. For example, insurance firms may reject to insure an individual or his family members if their genetic information reveals they are suffering from critical disorders. Other people who might have malicious intentions may also misuse the genetic information.
Numerous conceptual and philosophical issues that bring about ethical implication surround use of genetics in medicines. One such point is the concept of human behavior. It is considered that genes influence the manner in which people conduct themselves in their personal lives, public lives, workplace correlation among others. Thus, genetic alterations control and govern human behavior, which should be a natural and not a designed trait. Another issue with this ethical concern is how to draw a boundary between enhancement and medical treatment. Your genome (“Is Germline Gene Therapy Ethical?”) explains that whereas genetic alterations should only be undertaken for medical related issues, others bypass this limit and utilize it for personal enhancement. The main problem lies in determining where a line should be drawn between the two. Another issue under this ethical implication concerns human responsibility. There is no definite rule defining where a person’s control lies regarding genetic makeups.
Global Perspective Including Examples
Medical genetics and its applications in medicine have been gaining considerable presence in the past three decades. The extent of genetic testing has increased as well as its application. The global perspective of the use of genes in medicine is wide and varying. However, there are numerous perspectives similar to the international population. One of the general global perspectives entails increasing awareness and discussion regarding the risks and benefits associated with medical genetic. Healthcare professionals should discuss and create awareness to the public regarding implications of genetic testing and application. Healthcare professionals are key stakeholders involved in medical genetics and current practices, thereby making them most appropriate for addressing patient concerns revolving around the use of genes in medicine. Altering genetic information in cells that are inherited has been criticized by the scientists due to the high risks (Lanphier, Edward et al.). In 2015, the scientist called for a global ban on using zinc finger and CRISPR in editing inheritable human genome (Baltimore, D. et al.). The debates on the use of CRISPR led to more research, with Chinese researchers making a breakthrough the following year after being able to edit the DNA of non-viable human embryos (Liang, Puping et al.). In 2016, the United Kingdom fertility regulator granted scientists permission to use CRISPR in modifying human embryo on condition that they will not be implanted into a woman and will be destroyed within seven days (Gallagher, James).
The impact of disclosing genetic information spurs discrimination and reduced privacy. For instance, when specific genetic information regarding a disease likely to be passed to other generations is discovered, the patient might be discriminated against other people. Additionally, when seeking personal insurance, an individual might be judged about his or her genetic information. For example, in a study surveying 36 counselors, 28% of them affirmed that an insurer had approached them to request for patient information (Lane, Ngueng Feze and Joly 1023). Disclosing genetic information has created an implication whereby people feel insecure to undergo genetic tests for fear that the information might be used to their disadvantage. Ethical principles in medical healthcare should also be upheld (Wertz and Fletcher 31). The patients and their families should be given adequate information regarding the tests and how the information will be used.
Medical genetics is still in its early years of development. For instance, in the United States, medical genetics was recognized as a specialty only within the past decade (Korf, Bruce R).
International community feels that more educational resources on genetics should be provided and made accessible to the public (Lane, Ngueng Feze and Joly 1025). The resources should be provided in varying content, depth and length about the context of the various areas in the genetics topic. Examples of these areas include the extent of application, possible adverse impacts, ethical concerns, costs, insurability of family members and the benefits. Most people also feel that it is not only the patients who should be provided with educational resources but also healthcare professionals to increase their knowledge and skills on the subject matter. MedicineNet (“Medical Definition of Gene”) claims that with more resources, finance, and technological advancements, better applications of genetic information will be realized and utilized positively to enhance people’s lives. New ways of mitigating the downsides and risks will also likely be discovered and used to help patients. In the United States, the American College of Medical Genetics has embraced this role and have been publishing a monthly informative journal titled “Genetics in Medicine.” The “American Society of Human Genetics” also prints a monthly journal titled “American Journal of Human Genetics” each month on various topics.
Gene is an essential component of an individual’s biological unit. Many studies and laboratory tests have been conducted to get a more comprehensive understanding of genes and how they can be used in medicine. The use of genes in medicine is applied in many areas such as manufacturing drugs using plants, making drugs using animals and gene pharming. Genetic information is also employed in germline gene therapy, somatic gene therapy and in predicting possible disorders. Use of genes in medicine is still in its developing stage, thus making it susceptible to many ethical implications. These ethical implications include reproductive issues, privacy issues, discrimination, genetic divide and conceptual implications. More educative resources should be made available to patients, healthcare professionals and the public to create more awareness of the practice and application of genetic information. With more research being conducted, safer applications of genetic information are expected in the new future. Healthcare professionals should uphold the principles of medical ethics when carrying out their utilization of genetic information.
Baltimore, D. et al. “A Prudent Path Forward For Genomic Engineering and Germline Gene Modification.” Science, vol 348, no. 6230, 2015, pp. 36-38. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), doi:10.1126/science.aab1028.
Gallagher, James. “UK Approves Embryo ‘Gene Editing’.” BBC News, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/health-35459054.
“Is Germline Gene Therapy Ethical?” Yourgenome, Jun. 2015, https://www.yourgenome.org/debates/is-germline-gene-therapy-ethical. Accessed 2 Nov. 2017.
Korf, Bruce R. “Genetics in Medical Practice.” Genetics in Medicine, vol 4, 2002, pp. 10S-14S. Springer Nature, doi:10.1097/00125817-200211001-00003.
Lane, Michelle, Ida Ngueng Feze, and Yann Joly. “Genetics and Personal Insurance: The Perspectives of Canadian Cancer Genetic Counselors.” Journal of Genetic Counseling, vol 24, no. 6, 2015, pp. 1022-1036. doi: 10.1007/s10897-015-9841-9.
Lanphier, Edward et al. “Don’T Edit The Human Germ Line.” Nature, vol 519, no. 7544, 2015, pp. 410-411. Springer Nature, doi:10.1038/519410a.
Liang, Puping et al. “CRISPR/Cas9-Mediated Gene Editing In Human Tripronuclear Zygotes.” Protein & Cell, vol 6, no. 5, 2015, pp. 363-372. Springer Nature, doi:10.1007/s13238-015-0153-5.
“Making Medicines.” The Tech, n.d., http://genetics.thetech.org/about-genetics/making-medicines. Accessed 2 Nov. 2017.
“Medical Definition of Gene.” MedicineNet, n.d., https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=3560. Accessed 2 Nov. 2017.
Wertz, Dorothy C, and John C Fletcher. Genetics and Ethics in Global Perspective. Springer