Biotechnology and Global Health

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 8 million lives could be saved by 2010 by combating infectious diseases and malnutrition through developments in biotechnology. A study conducted by the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto identified biotechnologies with the greatest potential to improve global health, including the following:

  • Hand-held devices to test for infectious diseases including HIV and malaria. Researchers in Latin America have already made breakthroughs with such devices in combating dengue fever.
  • Genetically engineered vaccines that are cheaper, safer, and more effective in fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, hepatitis, and other ailments. Edible vaccines could be incorporated into potatoes and other foods.
  • Drug delivery alternatives to needle injections, such as inhalable or powdered drugs.
  • Genetically modified bacteria and plants to clean up contaminated air, water, and soil.
  • Vaccines and microbicides to help prevent sexually transmitted diseases in women.
  • Computerized tools to mine genetic data for indications of how to prevent and cure diseases.
  • Genetically modified foods with greater nutritional value.
  • Paula Kepos of taco shells was discovered to contain a variety of genetically engineered corn that had been approved by the FDA for use in animal feed, but not for human consumption. Although several antibiotechnology groups used this situation as an example of potential allergenicity stemming from the use of biotechnology, in this case the protein produced by the genetically modilied gene was not an allergen. This incident also demonstrated the difficulties in keeping track of a genetically modified food that looks identical to the unmodified food. Other concerns about the use of recombinant DNA technology include potential losses of biodiversity and negative impacts on other aspects of the environment.
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