The Promise of Synthetic Biology in Medicine and Healthcare
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Published On: October 31st, 2023Categories: Articles, Synthetic Biology

Underneath the umbrella of synthetic biology (coined syn-bio) are many subfields of emerging discoveries in the scientific community. Syn-bio has many applications, from industrial to pharmaceutical, and the role of synthetic biology in medicine is an important one. An excellent description of what synthetic biology is included in a May 2023 research article: “Synthetic biology aims to design or assemble existing bioparts or bio-components for useful bioproperties.” From constructing genetic circuits for tumor targeting to treating infectious diseases, synthetic biology in medicine is a rapidly growing field. Read on to learn more about syn-bio in drug discovery, healthcare, synthetic biology, and biohacking.

Synthetic Biology in Medicine: Drug Discovery

Drug discovery and using plant-derived compounds as medication and treatment is nothing new. Many pain medications are derived from the opium poppy, cannabis is now widely used as medication, and even aspirin is derived from the willow tree. However, synthetic biology in medicine takes it further by characterizing, manipulating, and then duplicating non-plant compounds. An example is the medication colchicine, which is used to treat gout and Mediterranean fever. Researchers generated a new RNA sequence in research and now produce colchicine from the Gloriosa superba plant.

Synthetic Biology and Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering also plays a role in synthetic biology and medicine. A good example is the creation of synthetic mammalian cells to treat metabolic disorders and cancers. This includes synthetic gene networks for sensing or diagnostics, medical biomolecules’ production, and organisms’ programming. Also, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) cells are engineered receptors that contain both T-cell- and antigen-binding domains and are used in cancer treatments.

Synthetic Biology in Medicine: Therapeutic Applications

Syn-bio in healthcare and medicine touches many other areas, including drug discovery and genetic engineering. Other applications and uses of synthetic biology in medicine include

  • SynNotch (synthetic Notch) receptor engineering in medical therapies
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for tissue regeneration
  • HEK-β cells for diabetes treatments
  • Overexpression of functional genes or transcriptional factors to regenerate tissue
  • Genetically engineered bacteria for live therapeutics, cancer diagnosis, and treatment
  • Genetically engineered bacteria for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders
  • Self-assembly of organelles

Nanobiotechnology and biohacking are also emerging fields. Plant processes can also be used in the production of medical and therapeutic materials.

The Ethics and Risks of Synthetic Biology

Much of the discussion centered around synthetic biology, and ethical concerns revolve around genome editing. As of 2023, researchers can synthesize an organism’s entire genome and have been able to for decades.

Researchers often look at what is the harm or benefit to society. For instance, there is less objection to synthetic biology and medicine, as this branch can help treat cancer patients and help those with metabolic diseases.

Many arguments center around the ignorance of man in an attempt to play God. These and many other concerns have been present nearly since syn-bio’s inception. There are also biosecurity concerns, as cures for infectious diseases fall under the umbrella of synthetic biology.

Synthetic Biology Tools

If you wanted to work with synthetic biology in medicine, or needed to tweak your existing lab, what tools are must-haves in a syn-bio list? Some of your needed tools include

  • Liquid handler: Transfers samples, reagents, etc. Syn-bio uses liquid handlers for gene assembly to plasmid preparation.
  • Thermocycler: Amplifies DNA via temperature cycles. It can be used in synthetic biology in medicine to assist with gene assembly.
  • Automated colony picker: Chooses specific DNA from a large sample size. Pickers are useful for noting characteristics of colonies, picking and aspirating cells, and rearranging them on a new plate.
  • Complete workstation: Many automated equipment for synthetic biology in medicine are designed to work together for an all-in-one workstation. In syn-bio, a workstation allows you to perform gene assembly, transformation, colony plating, colony picking, and plasmid prep.

To learn more about the tools and equipment needed for synthetic biology in medicine or to request a quote, contact a representative at Hudson Robotics today.

Sources:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41392-023-01440-5

https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/redesigning-medicine-using-synthetic-biology.

https://www.news-medical.net/health/The-Impact-of-Synthetic-Biology-on-Human-Health.aspx

https://openwetware.org/wiki/Synthetic_Biology:Tools

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169409X1630240X.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3045879/