Since 1982, hundreds of millions of people worldwide have been helped by more than 230 biotechnology drugs and vaccines. There are more than 400 biotech drug products and vaccines currently in clinical trials targeting more than 200 diseases, including various cancers, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and arthritis.
Biotechnology is responsible for hundreds of medical diagnostic tests that keep the blood supply safe from the AIDS virus and detect other conditions early enough to be successfully treated. Home pregnancy tests are also biotechnology diagnostic products.
And there's more to come Ã³ biotechnology is one of the most research-intensive industries in the world, spending $20.4 billion on research and development in 2005.
Who benefits? If you are with your family right now, you're looking at people who are benefiting from biotechnology. Give them a hug, and read on. Has a member of your family been vaccinated against hepatitis B, either separately or as part of an infant or child-hood vaccination regimen? If so, you have biotechnology to thank for protection against this sometimes fatal disease that attacks millions of people each year. Because the vaccine prevents infection-related liver damage that can result in liver cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls this “the first anti-cancer vaccine.”
Do you know someone who has diabetes? Before 1982, there were few options for insulin-dependent diabetics who were allergic to animal-derived insulin. That year, a human version of the drug entered the market Ã± the first ever biotechnology medicine to be commercialized. Recombinant insulin is still saving lives today, and the next few years may bring inhaled forms of insulin and other new diabetes drugs that reduce the devastating impact of this disease.
Has anyone in your family had heart disease? Heart disease is still a leading killer of adults, but its toll is dropping. From 1993 to 2003, the death rate from coronary heart disease dropped 30.2 percent, due in part to the introduction, beginning in 1987, of new biotechnology-based drugs, which allow emergency room doctors to dissolve blockages causing heart attacks. The first drug approved in this class is now used to treat a stroke in progress. The result is that a significant percentage of each yearâ€™s 5,500,000 victims of stroke in the United States may have reduced disability if this treatment is given quickly.
If a member of your family is diagnosed with breast cancer, leukemia, lymphoma or another cancer, it will help you to know that biotechnology has enabled therapies over the past 20 years that are working miracles. A growing percentage of cancer patients are surviving and returning to good health thanks to these breakthroughs.
Some diseases are more likely to strike the women in your family. Rheumatoid arthritis is a good example. The disease afflicts two million people - mostly women - often during early or middle adulthood. Today, biotechnology drugs that slow the painful, joint-destroying progression of the disease are helping tens of thousands of women.
These improvements in health care for you and your family are just a small sample of the benefits biotechnology has brought, and will continue to bring, in the future. New products in advanced testing or under consideration for approval at the FDA include medications for cancer, psoriasis, lupus, stroke, HIV (both treatments and vaccines), sickle-cell disease, diabetes, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration and rare genetic diseases.
Biotechnology is helping to keep all members of the family healthy, including the family pet. New veterinary biopharmaceuticals provide better disease treatment, including anti-inflammatory drugs to treat arthritis or musculoskeletal pain in animals. Other biotech products eliminate pets' internal parasites; antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and sedatives are used to calm animals during the administration of anesthesia.
Improving Everyday Life
Sometimes, biotechnology has the biggest impact in places you never notice.
When you made coffee this morning, you probably didn't realize the filter was made with a biotechnology process that uses enzymes to bleach the paper, reducing the amount of chlorine and energy used in manufacturing. The vitamin C and vitamin B2 you gulped this morning were probably made with a biotech process that eliminates the use of toxic chemicals during the manufacturing process.
The cornflakes in the cereal bowl were made with corn grown using fewer pesticides, thanks to the development of corn that is resistant to insects and disease. The bread for your toast contains natural biotech food enzymes that help the bread rise and keep it fresh. Biotech enzymes are used to remove lactose from milk to help people who are lactose intolerant. Other enzymes are used in brewing beer or in making flavors like vanilla.
Take a look on the shelves of your kitchen cabinets. You will find products made with canola oil that contains virtually no trans fats and comes from plants grown with fewer pesticide applications, thanks to biotechnology. Other products on those shelves that are made with less environmental impact include foods containing soybeans, soybean oil and sunflower oil.
Any cheese in the 'fridge? For more than 20 years, the cheese you eat has been created with a biotech enzyme, chymosin. The natural enzyme is found in calves and used to curdle milk during cheese production. Using biotechnology to make the enzyme results in more plentiful and purer supplies, while eliminating the need to use animals for this purpose. The biotech enzyme is used in approximately 60 percent of all hardcheese products.
In fact, more than 70 percent of the processed foods purchased in the supermarket contain ingredients improved through biotechnolog; oil and meal from soybeans, corn and cotton seeds. Biotech crops improve yields, cut costs and reduce pesticide applications. Not only does that improve farmers' bottom lines, but it also saves time - improving farmers' quality of life.
Safe and Healthier Foods
As obesity rates climb to epidemic levels, biotechnology is helping to create a new generation of healthier oils from soybeans, canola and sunflowers. These oils are free of the trans fats that can raise cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.
Other biotechnology products would improve nutritional content. One such product, “golden rice,” would provide vitamin A to millions of people in developing countries who suffer from a deficiency of this vitamin, which is critical for eyesight and anemia prevention. This is only one example of several fortified foods now in development.
Hundreds of millions of Africans rely on sorghum, one of the few crops that grow in arid conditions. It's used to make cakes, beer and porridge as well as livestock feed. With grants from U.S. groups, African scientists are working to make sorghum more easily digestible by humans and to increase its levels of several key nutitional elements, including zinc, iron, vitamin A, amino acids and protein.
In some cases, biotech can improve a food by removing an allergen. An estimated 5.4 to 7 million Americans are allergic to such common foods as peanuts, shellfish, milk, soy, wheat and eggs. Children with food allergies are particularly vulnerable to anaphylactic shock, which results in about 125 deaths each year in the United States. Biotechnology scientists are working to isolate the specific proteins that trigger allergic reactions and modify the foods so as to eliminate the health risk.
Biotechnology can also help make meats safer through innovations in animal health. More then 100 animal biotech products are helping to assure animals are healthy when they leave the farm for processing.
To make animal products even safer in the future, biotech researchers are developing products to prevent animals from harboring the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that cause more than 73,000 cases of illness each year in the United States. Biotech researchers and companies are also developing DNA-based animal identification systems to quickly track future outbreaks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease) and quickly remove affected meat from grocery stores. Moreover, Korean researchers have cloned cattle that are not susceptible to BSE - pointing the way toward a BSE-free future.
Cleaner Manufacturing and Environmental Challenges
After more than two decades of success in health care and food production, scientists are now looking for ways to use biotechnology to make manufacturing of common products - like plastic and fuel - cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable through the use of renewable resources.
How many plastic products can you see right now? While you and your family may be concerned about the enormous use of petroleum products for energy, the plastic products that surround you in your home or office are also made from oil Ã³ much of it from overseas. That may be changing forever, very soon.
New plastics are coming into your home made with corn and other plants, not petroleum, via a biotechnology process. Think of the impact on the environment: the plants themselves will be taking carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow, while delivering products that do not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in their use or disposal. The result is cleaner air, cleaner water and a cleaner planet for your children.
New fuels like biodiesel and ethanol are coming on the market. Biodiesel is made by extracting oils from soybeans and other crops. New bio-degradable greases and lubricants for the family car also are being made from agricultural oils. Ethanol can be made from corn or, using new biotech processes, it can be made from agricultural residues such as wheat straw, cornhusks, rice straw or even grass clippings.
Biotechnology is also being applied in more direct ways to environmental cleanup. A process called bioremediation uses microorganisms to reduce, eliminate, or contain contaminants.
How does all this affect your everyday life? Such common products as vitamins, paper and faded blue jeans can now be manufactured with less energy and pollution. Plus, every time you take fresh clothes out of the dryer youÃre benefiting from the detergent enzymes developed by biotechnology to remove deep stains. These enzymes have replaced the phosphates that used to be a serious pollutant for the nation's rivers and streams.
Crops improved through biotechnology not only improve farming efficiency, but also provide a softer environmental footprint than traditional agricultural practices. According to the National Center for Food and Ag Policy, U.S. farmers growing transgenic pest-resistant and herbicide-tolerant cotton, corn and soybeans reduced the total volume of insecticides and herbicides by more than 66 million pounds in 2004. Growing biotech crops also reduces soil erosion by up to 90 percent compared to conventional cultivation, saving valuable topsoil, improving soil fertility, and dramatically reducing sedimentation in lakes, ponds, and waterways.
In developing countries with growing populations, the greatest threat to wildlife habitat and biodiversity is the need to convert these fragile environments to farmland to feed people. By increasing yields on cropland already dedicated to farming, more of these remaining spaces can be preserved.
In 2005, the 10-year anniversary of commercialized biotech crops, the one-billionth biotech acre was planted. Farmers in 17 countries are growing more than 200 million acres of crops improved through biotechnology. Soybeans, corn, cotton and canola have been enhanced to resist insects and herbicides, allowing farmers to increase productivity.
Feeding the world's growing population is a challenge as the best farmland is already in production. Scientists are developing new crops that are salt and drought tolerant to produce higher yields in marginal cropland.
Biodefense and Public Safety
Military units and disaster responders face new and dangerous threats from biological and chemical agents. Biotechnology-produced enzymes can now break down toxic chemicals, including nerve gases such as sarin and somain, in a way that is effective, convenient and enviromentally benign. These enzymes can be added to water and sprayed at the site of attack.
Scientists are also modifying mustard plants to serve as "sentinel plants" that warn of chemical warfare agents or animal pathogens such as anthrax. Recently, a Danish company announced it had developed a plant that can be used to detect land mines by changing colors when its roots encounter a mine. DNA fingerprinting, a biotech process, has transformed criminal investigation and forensic medicine, as well as afforded significant advances in anthropology and wildlife management.
Tomorrow, biotechnology will bring you better health and treatments for disease using agriculture Ã± the ultimate sustainable manufacturing process. Right now, scientists are developing plants that produce medicines. Think of them as “green drug factories” that will produce all kinds of medical products you and your family may need.
Today, researchers are working with plants such as rice and tobacco to produce proteins for life-saving biotech drugs. One day, rice may be used to make enzymes that can treat iron deficiency, which affects 67 percent of the worldÃs population, and anemia. Researchers are also experimenting with tobacco plants as drug factories; the possibilities include “growing” a preventative treatment for ovarian cancer in tobacco leaves.
This kind of cutting-edge biotech research is under way all over the world, on every continent, including Antarctica, where researchers are searching for microbes with useful properties for manufacturing.
Back here at home, take one more look around. There are biotechnology benefits everywhere you look.
These benefits are just a small sampling of the enormous improvements brought by biotechnology over the past 50+ years, since James Watson and Francis Crick first described the DNA molecule. And even as you are reading this, scientists around the globe are imagining even more solutions, big and small, for the challenging world in which you live.