Biotech: The best is yet to come
Almost all major diseases can now be detected during pregnancy itself through advanced biotechnological tools, says biotech expert.
After the completion of Human Genome Project, which successfully identified 300 billion DNA sequence in humans, biotechnology is poised for great leap in days to come.
"In the fast moving area of biotechnological research, it's not only the developed nations but countries such as India which have shown great initiative", says YD Sharma, Professor and Head, biotechnology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
"Ten or twenty years ago, we didn't stand anywhere in the field of biotechnology… we were too far behind to merit a mention", says Prof Sharma.
The chief road blockades in India's advancement in biotechnology were poor infrastructure, near absence of technology and untrained manpower. "But fortunately, we have been able to overcome the last handicap - of scientific manpower. Today, India has a vast pool of scientists who are doing exceedingly well both in India as well as abroad", says Prof Sharma.
This has been largely possible through some of the premium scientific institutes established in 1980s in the country. India, through its teaching institutes, has helped in meeting the demand of biotechnologists across the world, especially in the developed countries. Founded in 1986, the Department of Biotechnology at AIIMS itself has produced scientists who have been largely absorbed in research work abroad.
"But lately there has been a decline", says Sharma. "Earlier, 30 per cent of our Institute's pass outs joined research project abroad. But it's no longer so", rues Prof Sharma.
A recipient of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award and a member of National Academy of Science, Prof Sharma believes that biotechnology has immense potential in all areas of human life. "We are already successful in agriculture… there remains a lot to be achieved in the field of medical biotechnology", says Sharma.
"A team of our biotechnologists are already working towards improved diagnosis of infectious diseases such as Tuberculosis and malaria", says Sharma.
The foremost benefit of medical biotechnology is the DNA-based diagnosis of genetic disorder. Almost all the major diseases can be detected during pregnancy through advanced biotechnological tools.
After the diagnosis, the next challenge is its treatment. Gene therapy is a futuristic treatment. It will help replace defected gene with the normal one. But the process is not as simple as it sounds. Scientists worldwide believe it's one of the most daunting challenges of genetic engineering - targeting of the genes.
A minor lapse could lead to a major havoc. A wrongly placed gene could complicate the problem instead of solving it. Targeting the defective gene and replacing it with the normal one would calls for extraordinary precision and understanding of genetic expression, says Sharma.
"There are certain diseases in which multiple genes are involved, for example the malignant tumour. This would need dealing with the problem at a different level. On the other hand, single gene disorders such as Thalassaemia are easier to treat as they involve only one gene", says Sharma.
As the medical biotechnology battles with these problems, it has much to gain in the process. Apart from an improved diagnosis of diseases and treatment, medical technology is also breaking fresh grounds in producing drugs which would be of immense use in providing the right kind of medication.