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 Medicine- Pharming

Some of the most promising and powerful applications of genetic engineering are in the field of medicine. Researchers are using it to diagnose and predict disease, and to develop therapies and drugs to treat devastating diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis. Explore more about one of the common uses of genetic engineering in medicine: pharming.

Pharming
A highly experimental use of genetic engineering is "pharming," which engineers crops and livestock to produce medically useful products.

How it's Done
"Pharmers" use recombinant DNA techniques to create hybrid genes: crossing animal or plant DNA with a gene(s) that makes a desired protein. (The gene could come from humans, bacteria, or microorganisms that produce powerful proteins and enzymes.)

Animals
Researchers introduce the hybrid genes into animal embryos. These embryos are implanted into foster mothers and carried to term, resulting in transgenic offspring. The offspring produce the desired proteins in their milk or blood. The substance is extracted from the milk or blood, and purified. Some of the animals involved in this effort so far include mice, calves, sheep, goats and chickens.

Crops
The process is similar in plants. The hybrid gene is spliced into a plant, which then starts producing the desired protein.

Pharming Products
Pharming has yielded drugs such as growth hormone, blood components such as hemoglobin, and large quantities of certain proteins needed for research. Transgenic animals are also a likely source of organs for xenotransplantation.

Pharming's Future
Pharming is still in the experimental stage as a manufacturing process. Scientists believe that pharming is more efficient than using genetically engineered bacteria or specially cultured animal cells to produce drugs. But first, pharming must overcome many technical, economic, ethical, and social concerns.

Web Link
Can we really get medicine from mice? Transgenics is making it possible. Read this short article from Smithsonian Magazine: "New Breeds Down on the Farm."

 


Explore More: Genetic Engineering
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.


 

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