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Medical Biotechnology: Advancement and Ethics

Jan 29, 2021

What is Medical Biotechnology?

Medical biotechnology is a branch of medicine that uses living cells and cell materials to research and then produce pharmaceutical and diagnosing products. These products help treat and prevent diseases. From the Ebola vaccine to mapping human DNA to agricultural impacts, medical biotechnology is making huge advancements and helping millions of people.

Some of the most recent uses of biological tech is work in genetic testing, drug treatments, and artificial tissue growth. With the many advancements in medical biotechnology, there are new concerns that arise. From funding to ethics, there are many things to determine and regulate when it comes to this fast-paced industry. Learn about the many technical biology advancements and the concerns surrounding them.

Major Medical Biotechnology Advancements

From cancer research to agriculture advancements, medical biotechnology has many promising avenues of technological growth that have the potential to help many people.


CRISPR technology or CRISPR-Cas9 utilizes a protein called Cas9, which acts like a pair of molecular scissors and can cut DNA. CRISPRs are specialized stretches of DNA and are used in medical biotechnology as a tool to edit genomes. This allows scientists to alter DNA and modify gene functions, often called genetic engineering. There are many applications, like correcting genetic defects, treating diseases, preventing the spread of diseases, improving crops, and more. But the science of altering genomes has many ethical concerns surrounding it. From the ability to mutate genes and the unknowns surrounding gene mutation, CRISPR is a controversial area of biomedical science. Some new studies even show that perhaps CRISPR technology can create tumors and cancer with DNA deletions that aren’t controlled or precise. Of course, pharmaceutical companies and other scientific organizations that develop and utilize CRISPR technology are trying to downplay the concerns and issues, so the reality of the benefits and damage of the technology is somewhat unknown.

Tissue Nanotransfection

New science may have the ability to heal people with a single touch. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Tissue nanotransfection works by injecting genetic code into skin cells, which turns those skin cells into the other types of cells required for treating diseases. In some lab tests, one touch of TNT completely repaired the injured legs of mice over a period of a few weeks by turning skin cells into vascular cells. And reportedly, this biotech can work on other types of tissue besides skin. The potential for this type of gene therapy is huge, from helping car crash victims to active duty soldiers. Medical biotechnology has made this advancement possible, and the continued research and testing will only help improve this tech and adopt it across hospitals and medical centers.

Recombinant DNA Technology

Recombinant DNA technology is combining DNA molecules from two different species and then inserting that new DNA into a host organism. That host organism will produce new genetic combinations for medicine, agriculture, and industry. There are many examples of recombinant DNA technology being utilized, from biopharmaceuticals and diagnostics to energy applications like biofuel to agricultural biotechnology with modified fruits and veggies. The genetically modified products are able to perform better than the regular medicine or produce. Recombinant agriculture is able to be more pest resistant or weather resistant; recombinant medicine like insulin is able to better work with bodies, etc. Because of the many benefits that recombinant DNA holds for a variety of products, researchers are optimistic about the future it has within biosciences and in other industries as well.

Genetic Testing from 23andMe

Genetic and ancestry kits are popular these days, and they are beneficial for more than just helping people understand their genetics and heritage. New studies are showing that saliva kits are able to test for things like breast cancer by looking at gene mutations. Certain races are also more likely to inherit certain mutations or human diseases, and knowing what races make up your genetic material can help you be prepared. While 23andMe test results shouldn’t be a reason to make decisions about treatments, understanding your heritage and how that could impact your health is valuable. 23andMe is also authorized to analyze for a variety of diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's.

HPV Vaccine

You’ve probably heard of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and how it’s linked to cervical cancer—which is the second most lethal form of cancer for women, next to breast cancer. Statistics show that cervical cancer kills 275,000 women annually, which is why a vaccine for HPV is so important. The good news is there are now two vaccines on the market—Cervarix and Gardasil—that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in women from ages 9 to 26.

Stem Cell Research

Biotechnology plays a big part in supporting stem cell research, which supports the exploration of growing stem cells in a lab setting or in vitro. This could help in situations where patients may be suffering from a disease or disorder where implanting stem cells could help restore their vitality and give them a new lease on life. How does it work? Because stem cells can repeatedly divide and transform into other types of body cells, biotechnologists can learn how to work with their unique profiles to encourage growth of specific types of cells. Though research is ongoing, it’s reported that the results show hope for the future of this unique medical approach.

Medical and Ethical Issues of Biotechnology

While there are great advancements and positives to medical biotechnology, anything this fast-growing and powerful is bound to come with some concerns and issues. Medical biotechnology is a controversial medical topic, with medical ethical issues associated.

Risk to Human Life in Clinical Trials

A huge risk of medical biotechnology is its impact during clinical trials. Because it’s such new tech, people can and have gotten hurt—and even died—during trials of the technology. Because of these risks, extensive research should be performed before even thinking of introducing tech to human subjects, and those who are participating in a trial should be extremely aware of any and all possibilities. Unfortunately, the paradox is that many times people who are sick are willing to try new things for the chance to get cured. This means researchers and doctors have a huge ethical responsibility to truly outline for a patient what the costs may be and respect their ultimate decision.

High Cost May Exclude the Poor

While medical biotechnology has huge potential to make medicine more efficient and easy, what’s the cost? This technology is often hugely expensive compared to traditional treatments. There is an ongoing give and take about finding new medical advancements and the cost it takes to do research and then market the findings for purchase. There is also the concern that high costs of tech treatments can exclude an entire class of people from being able to utilize them. This is also a huge give and take, with science and medicine having a responsibility to help all patients—not just those who are wealthy enough to buy the best care.

Privacy Concerns

Privacy is an ongoing issue in our technology world, but reading someone’s DNA seems to be a giant privacy breach. Imagine a doctor looks at a young child’s DNA and finds out they are likely to develop a heart disease or terminal issue. Does their employer have the right to know that? Should this information impact their ability to get a house or insurance? HIPAA offers some protection, but as medical biotechnology continues to advance the ability to read genes, insurance companies, doctors, and governments will have to come up with new programs and privacy tactics to match all the new needs that will arise.

Some Groups Oppose Stem Cell Research

Medical biotechnology is kind of a hot-button political issue, with presidential candidates even being asked about their position. The idea of working with fetal tissue, or other tissue, to learn about regrowth conjures images of Frankenstein’s monster. Scientists and researchers have been cautioned multiple times to be ethical and moral when doing this research. For example, using human tissue for research can be seen as ethical, while using an embryo’s tissue can be seen as unethical because it can damage the embryo. It is still early in the stem-cell research process, but as technology and research continue to advance in that area, scientists will have to consider moral and ethical lines even more.

Bioterrorism is a National Concern

Medical biotechnology has been used for security measures to help prevent a large number of people from possible bioterrorism. But the development of these projects takes away funding and time from curing known diseases. It becomes a real question of how to divide resources among projects and knowing where the resources are most needed. It’s difficult because we don’t know if people will die from bioterrorism but with so many people being concerned, it seems like a worthwhile place to spend time and money.

Any way you look at it, there are a number of concerns when it comes to medical biotechnology, and as we continue to make advancements, these ethical considerations will have to be made.

Role of Nurses in the Biotechnology Industry

Nurses have an ongoing role in medical biotechnology because of their direct experience with patient care. Nurses are able to use their knowledge and experience in hospitals and clinics to understand and demonstrate how medicines and drugs would impact large populations. Beyond knowing the science, they have the human element that researchers sometimes lack. They are able to understand how a patient would respond to a potential treatment and can help researchers consider new approaches to technology and adoption practices.

Nurses who have leadership and management experience can also help support researchers by keeping them on track with goals and checkpoints, ensuring that projects are moving along smoothly and key information is being conveyed to management. In instances where patients are part of the research, nurses can gain deeper insights from patients about their experiences in trials and how they’ve been affected. By being fluent in medical terminology and having the ability to effectively connect with patients, nurses can help bridge the gap between the two worlds and share valuable information between patients and researchers.

Role of Healthcare Leaders in the Biotechnology Industry

Because the biotech industry is constantly shifting and changing, strong leadership is needed to help navigate those changes and support researchers in their work. This is where healthcare managers come in. With their experience in operational management, these leaders can assist with streamlining processes and addressing the needs of a variety of stakeholders, while their knowledge of data-driven decision making can support researchers crunching the numbers associated with their work. An understanding of financial management can keep projects on budget, while experience in healthcare information technology is also a valuable asset to the biotech world. And with a background in marketing, healthcare leaders can also be key in communicating findings, both internally and externally.

Medical biotechnology is a field that is exploding and along with its potential for saving lives, it raises some ethical questions. As the field continues to grow, people from all types of industries are going to be required to make decisions to help regulate this field.

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