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» The Possibilities

The possibilities of biomedical research in general

In June 2000 the former US President Bill Clinton and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced, that a rough draft of the Human Genome had been completed after 10 years of work. They declared a new era of medical discovery, which would open new doors in treating and even curing an endless list of currently incurable diseases. Dr. Michael Dexter, the director of the Wellcome Trust, which funded the British part of the Human Genome Project, underlined the enormous potential of genetic research with the following words: "Mapping the Human Genome has been compared with putting a man on the moon, but I believe it is more than that".Biomedical research already resulted in 100 drugs, that are on the market, and 350 new drugs, that are tested in human clinical trials all over the world.

Gene therapy

According to many researchers gene therapy is one the most promissing fields of biomedical research. All gene therapies have the same or at least a similar principle. Gene therapies want to deliver a therapeutic gene to the cells, that need this gene (e.g. liver cells, bone cells etc.). And the problem is always the same, too. The delivery methods (the gene vectors) are still not perfect. Current studies often use harmless viruses, like the virus of the common cold (an adenovirus), to deliver the therapeutic gene to body cells. Other researchers are working with liposomes, naked DNA or transposones. Some researchers try to combine viruses and liposomes or use gene guns. Still we don´t know exactly, which will be the most effective method. But surely this will change in the near future, as successful clinical trial results prove. Most researchers agree, that the delivery problem will be solved in about 4 or 5 years. Then the major problem of all gene therapies is solved. This means, that effective gene therapies, which will cure currently incurable diseseases, will be a reality in the foreseeable future.

There are already some approved gene therapies in the EU, China and Russia and a lot of very promissing gene therapy studies against cystic fibrosis, different forms of cancer and many other illnesses. Surely genetic therapies and biomedical research will radically change the possibilities of medicine. And gene therapies will only have minimal side-effects or be side-effect-free, as they work very specific on the molecular level. Current drugs don´t work very specifically, so serious side-effects are not unusual. According to a study by the University of Toronto side-effects of drugs are among the most frequent causes of deaths in American hospitals. This will be changed dramatically by very specific biomedical drugs.

Stem cell therapy and tissue engineering

Another very interesting field of biomedical research is stem cell therapy and tissue engineering.Tissue Engineering is the study of the growth of new connective tissues, or organs, from cells and a collagenous scaffold to produce a fully functional organ for implantation back into the donor host. This technique will allow organs to be grown from implantation (rather than transplantation) and hence free from immunological rejection. The starting point for any tissue-engineered organ is the harvesting of small amounts of tissue from the future recipient of the Tissue Engineered organ. This could be as small as a 2mm punch biopsy for some applications.

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