What keeps an industry fresh? Innovation. In biotechnology, innovation happens nearly every day and continues to push the limits of what science is capable of. Personalization has become a big player in the space along with “pre disease” screening, biomark identification, gene therapy and large scale analysis of data. Some are calling these “translational biotechnology” applications, which are built by combining complex and creative data and translating that into something that will benefit the “greater good” of mankind.
Biomarker analysis utilizes the change in key data indicators to predict, prevent, or even personalize tools for diseases. An example of this would be using miRNA to detect lung tumors early on, in comparison to conventional screening methods. As knowledge of biomarkers including circulating nucleic acids markers becomes more developed, many other examples of this “pre-disease” screening are likely to emerge. The importance of early detection and appropriate therapy to outcomes is very evident and shouldn’t be underestimated.
What about other things like genome editing and gene therapy? Certain types of genome editing allow for precise genetic modifications. When used with suitable guide and tracer RNAs it can actually allow for one-off sites of modification to be created at the whole genome level, as well as at the more conventional genetic element level. The overall significance and power of this tool have been compared to the restriction endonuclease and PCR revolutions of past decades.
When it comes to gene therapy, this niche may finally be coming to fruition. Hundreds of gene therapy trials have been carried out and the current market has found that vision systems are providing an optimal area for advancement. The power of stem cells to help overcome loss of function related to progressive blindness, for example, or in the treatment of MS (multiple sclerosis), has shown promising results are being obtained by using human stem cells in mice. This further extends in therapies to overcome paralysis and a range of other nervous system communication defects and should be a place for focus in the near term.
In addition to these, other advancements in 3D printing for Biotechnology applications, wearable devices, as well as nanotechnology/bionanotechnology have helped to enhance personalized medicine. For instance, more than 20 nanoparticle therapeutics have now received clinical use US Food & Drug Administration approval. Future prospects for bionanomaterials will also include the use of graphene family nanomaterials which will allow for new developments in biosensing, gene delivery and even real time imaging.
Wearables such as those similar to “Google Glass” are hardware items that can allow for point of view information transference during operations for image analysis. When combined with voice commands and involving external collaborators in surgery it can offer powerful tools to increase effectiveness and value as an educational resource. Ohio State University, for example, has deployed this successfully in operating procedure to repair a knee cruciate ligament, and in gastrostomy.
Regardless of what we see biotechnology as today, the industry continues to morph and mold into something much bigger than what’s in front of us right now or even 5 years from now. These new technology advancements and information systems enhancements will help determine where the industry itself might shift toward in the coming decades.