If genetic engineering sounds a little creepy to you, akin to lab-produced glow-in-the-dark worms and mutant humans with superpowers, I know some really cool researchers who might change your mind.
These researchers, led by Dr. Aaron P. Rapoport , the Gary Jobson Professor in Medical Oncology and Director of Gene Medicine/Lymphoma at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, are using genetic engineering to get some pretty impressive results for people suffering with difficult-to-treat multiple myeloma (MM), a type of cancer that starts in bone marrow.
Although about 35 percent of patients benefit from standard treatment, i.e. longer life, less pain and fewer complications, there is virtually no cure for multiple myeoma. Rapoport says standard treatment is effective — at least for a while, but in many MM patients it eventually stops working and there is a recurrence of disease.
Unfortunately, standard treatment is less effective for people with aggressive MM, who realize limited benefits for short intervals. The disease is marked by a high prevalence of infections such as pneumonia, bone pain, hypercalcemia (elevated calcium in the blood), renal failure and spinal cord compression.
That's where genetic engineering comes in.
Genetic engineering, technically known as recombinant DNA technology, is a fairly new concept that’s increasingly becoming an important tool in treating HIV-AIDS and cancer. Perhaps, in the future, conditions such as hemophilia, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and a form of inherited high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia).
Researchers are investigating right now to determine whether or not recombinant DNA technology will slow or cure these diseases.
There are two main ways in which genetic engineering is being used.
In the first, researchers pluck genes from one type of organism, say algae or sheep for example, and combine them with genes from a second organism — like you and me.
We’re not talking science fiction animal-human hybrids here.