How Medical Biotechnology Is Advancing Modern Healthcare

Man wearing business casual explains medical biotechnology product plans to colleagues on a large wall screen.

Advancements in medical biotechnology have impacted millions of lives in the past few decades.

From new vaccines developed to cure deadly diseases — such as during the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014 — to comprehensively mapping human DNA, the medical biotechnological industry has been on the forefront of technological advancement.

Medical biotechnology is the use of living cells and cell materials to research and produce pharmaceutical and diagnostic products that help treat and prevent human diseases.

Some of the latest areas of medical biotechnological advancement include pioneering work in genetic testing, advanced drug treatments and artificial tissue growth.

Medical Biotechnical Applications

Stem Cell Treatments

Each year, scientists and medical biotechnical researchers advance further into the field of stem cell research.

The world-famous Salk Institute, one of the leading nonprofit medical biotechnical organizations, created a new kind of stem cell in 2017, one that helped grow mice in a laboratory from an embryo to the adult stage.

The new cell type is called an “extended pluripotent stem cell,” which is the foundation of every cell in the body. Embryonic stem cells that come from human embryos or that are artificially created are unable to develop every type of cell the human body needs, which makes the EPS cell a special discovery.

In addition to creating muscle, blood, bone and tissue cells, among many others, the EPS cell can also make the placenta and “other extra-embryonic tissues needed for the embryo to survive and grow.”

In the future, scientists can use this medical biotechnology to help regrow human cells, potentially replacing limbs and organs or even healing cancer patients.

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Monoclonal Antibodies for Therapy

One of the most important advancements in medical biotechnology is the ability to use one’s own immune system to beat diseases.

Researchers began studying monoclonal antibodies in the 1970s, and now they are a standard treatment for serious illnesses. Monoclonal antibodies are lab-produced molecules “engineered to serve as substitute antibodies that can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system’s attack on cancer cells.”

These antibodies can serve a number of functions, including flagging cancer cells for the immune system to fight, triggering cell-membrane destruction, blocking cell or blood vessel growth and blocking immune system inhibitors.

In general, monoclonal antibody treatment has fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy treatments, making it a popular alternative to chemotherapy or as a parallel treatment.

Genome Sequencing

One of the current and future avenues of medical biotechnology is in genome sequencing.

In 1999, researchers were able to map the entire DNA sequence of human chromosome 22, the first time a human chromosome had been fully mapped. Since then, technology has advanced to the point that thousands of genomes have been fully or partially sequenced. Doctors can now anticipate whether certain diseases will be passed genetically from parents to children.

Although human genome research continues, the technology has entered the private market. Companies like 23 and Me or startups such as Helix, Veritas and Color provide the public with lab-produced genome sequencing tests to see discover ancestry information or whether individuals are susceptible to a heredity-linked diseases.

Gene-Therapy Drugs

The future of medical biotechnology is certainly intertwined with gene-therapy drugs.

The recent developments in gene therapy have offered hope to many suffering from genetic diseases that they can be cured. In December 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new gene-therapy treatment for a rare, genetically inherited form of blindness.

The therapy, called Luxturna, is the first “directly administered gene therapy approved in the U.S. that targets a disease caused by mutations in a specific gene.” The therapy works by delivering a normal copy of the RPE65 gene directly into retinal cells. This helps the cells produce the normal enzymes that help convert light into sight.

Looking ahead, the FDA recently approved CAR T-cell therapy for certain children and young adults with a type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Medical Biotechnology Salary Expectations

It’s never been a better time to enter the medical biotechnology field, especially at the management and administrative levels. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the field will grow by more than 20 percent through 2026, adding more than 72,000 jobs to the workforce. And medical and health service managers earned median salaries of $96,540 per year.

Some potential management-level roles include director of clinical pharmacology, senior medical director, clinical research monitor and an administrative coordinator.

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