Nature is complex as it can get
that it’s impossible for us to create a treatment for cancer, one of the
leading causes of death, without chemical synthesis. Today, however, chemical
as well as pharmaceutical companies have invested a lot of money on the use of
rare plants as well as seeds to harvest the substances that they contain.
However, the production methods
used pose a problem since they are found to cause harm to the environment by
generating plenty of chemical waste. Also, there is the risk that the plants
used in producing medicine can become extinct. What’s more, the United Nations
has placed regulations to help protect the raw materials as well as biodiversity
in various Third World countries where they are often harvested. This poses as
a problem since there is a need to produce medicine not only for cancer
patients, but also for patients who have mental disabilities. That being said, the need for real alternative
is paramount according to the Senior Researcher of the EU Horizon 2010 project
referred to as MIAMi which wag given a grant amounting to 6 million Euro.
According to a study that was
published in PNAS last April 2, researchers talked about how they were able to
genetically engineer, Saccharomyces
cerevisiae, which is a type of strain of brewer’s yeast, to create
noscapine. Noscapine is a type of nonnarcotic suppressant for cough that is
naturally produced by opium poppies.
Christina Smolke, a synthetic
biologist at Stanford University, and co-author of the study, said that the
technology they used will help change how essential medicines are manufactured.
She further stated that medicines were sourced naturally, usually from plants.
However, the molecular assembly lines of plants have already evolved to ensure
the survival of the plants, rather than create substances that people need in
order to create medications.
Smolke, together with her
colleagues, inserted 25 different genes from bacteria, plant, and even mammals
to the yeast, along with six other yeast genes to produce the pathway for
creating noscapine. The researchers edited the genes using CRISPR in order for
the enzymes that they coded would work well within the exotic and acidic
environment that is typical of yeast cells.
Their new configuration of
enzymes has led to an increase in yeast output of the medication at least
18,000 compared to previous trials using various gene combinations. What they end up with is the ability to
create noscapine within a few days only. How does this help in the creation of
anti-cancer treatments? It means that there is a possibility that this
technology be used to manufacture medications at a large scale to assist cancer
patients. Improving laboratory equipment is one way to achieve this.
Although noscapine is commonly
used to treat cough, back in 1998 researchers from Emory University had found
that this drug can be used to combat certain types of cancer. From then, this
medication was found to reduce the possibility of metastasis of prostate and
breast cancers in mice. However, the problem lies with the harvesting of the
drug through the opium poppies as it tends to be quite laborious.
In a statement that Smolke
released, she said that researchers are no longer limited to relying on what
nature can provide when it comes to manufacturing medicines. Instead,
scientists and researchers will be able to borrow the medicine-manufacturing
technique of plants, combine it with genetic engineering, in order to create
miniature living factories that can help them create medications for cancer
patients in the long run.