This website provides a curated collection of resources about the people, places and technologies that have enabled biotechnology to transform our healthcare and the world we live in today
Join the Debate: Genome editing
Scientists have recently begun to adopt a new technique for genetic engineering, called CRISPR-Cas9, in a wide number fields ranging from agriculture to medicine. Part of its attraction is that it permits genetic engineering on an unprecedented scale and at a very low cost. The technique is already being used in a variety of fields (click here for more information about CRISPR-Cas9). But because of its potential to modify DNA in human embryos, it has prompted calls for a public debate about where the technology should be applied.
Researchers working with WhatIsBiotechnology.org are running a pilot survey to gather people's views on the new technology. Dr Lara Marks, Managing Editor of WhatisBiotechnology.org and historian of medicine and Dr Silvia Camporesi, bioethicist at King's College London, are leading the project. Responses to the survey will be anonymised and the results will be published both here and through other media. To date, some 319 people have contributed to the debate. The interim analysis of their contributions is available on this page. Click here to join the debate.
One of the most important tools in medicine today is DNA sequencing. It is not only pivotal to mapping out the human genome, but to understanding the genetic cause of diseases like cancer and in the battle against rise of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. DNA sequencing not only lies at the heart of medicine, but is important to many other aspects of modern life, including forensic science and identifying the paternity of children and victims who have died in a disaster. Despite its importance, the history of DNA sequencing has received relatively little public attention. The development of the technique all began in the 1940s when a British biochemist, Fred Sanger, began looking for a way to work out the composition of proteins, molecules that are fundamental to every biological process in the body. This exhibition traces the life and work of Sanger highlighting the painstaking and time-consuming steps he took to develop DNA sequencing and the many different areas of medicine where his technique is now being applied. Click here to view the exhibition.
Today monoclonal antibodies are indispensable to medicine. They are not only used as therapeutics, comprising six out of ten of the best selling drugs in the world, but are also critical to unravelling the pathways of disease and integral components of diagnostic tests. Yet, the story of how these unsung microscopic heroes came into the world and helped change healthcare remains largely untold. The journey of monoclonal antibodies all started when an Argentinian émigré called César Milstein arrived at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, the same laboratory where Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA. This exhibition tells the story of how Milstein came to develop monoclonal antibodies and demonstrated their clinical application for the first time. Click here to view the exhibition.
A third of all new medicines introduced into the world today are monoclonal antibodies, many of which go on to become blockbuster drugs. This exhibition is the story of how one specific monoclonal antibody drug, alemtuzumab (marketed as Campath, MabCampath, Campath 1H and Lemtrada), moved from the laboratory bench through to the clinic and the impact it has had on patients' lives. Just one of many hundreds of monoclonal antibodies, alemtuzumab started life in 1979 not as a drug but as a laboratory tool for understanding the immune system. Within a short time, however, it was being used to improve the success of bone marrow transplants and as a treatment for leukaemia, lymphoma, vasculitis, organ transplants and multiple sclerosis. Highlighting the many twists and turns that alemtuzumab took over time, this exhibition explores the multitude of actors and events involved in the making of a biotechnology drug. Click here to view the exhibition.
Exploring the lives and works of the leading people from across the world like Esther Lederberg (pictured) whose efforts have helped build biotechnology into a world changing science.
Esther Lederberg (Born:1922 - Died: 2006) Esther Lederberg was a major pioneer of bacterial genetics. She discovered the lambda phage, a bacterial virus which is widely used as a tool to study gene regulation and genetic recombination. She also invented the replica plating technique, which is used to isolate and analyse bacterial mutants and track antibiotic resistance. Click here to learn more about Esther Lederberg or click here to browse all the people.
Exploring the places and institutions, and people working in them, across the world like Laboratory of Molecular Biology (pictured) where the science of biotechnology has been developed.
A pioneer in the field of molecular biology, the Laboratory of Molecular Biology was the place where the helix-structure of DNA was finally determined and where the first long-surviving monoclonal antibodies were created. Click here to learn more about Laboratory of Molecular Biology or click here to browse all the places.
This day in biotechnology
The following events took place on this day (7th February) in years past:
Ulf von Euler born in Stockholm, Sweden (1905)
Ulf von Euler shared the 1970 Nobel Prize for Medicine for 'discoveries concerning the humoral transmittors in the nerve terminals and the mechanism for their storage, release and inactivation.'
Ruth Sager was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA (1918)
Sager discovered the transmission of genetic traits through chloroplast DNA. This was the first example of genetics not involving the cell nucleus.
An ever-growing list of events, currently 909 events, that have contributed to the growth of biotechnology. Click here to browse the timeline.
The untold story of monoclonal antibodies
Forty years ago, viable monoclonal antibodies, imperceptibly small “magic bullets,” became available for the first time. First produced in 1975 by César Milstein and Georges Köhler at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England (where Watson and Crick unraveled the structure of DNA), Mabs have had a phenomenally far-reaching effect on our society and daily life. The Lock and Key of Medicine is the first book to tell the extraordinary yet unheralded history of monoclonal antibodies, or Mabs. Though unfamiliar to most nonscientists, these microscopic protein molecules are everywhere, quietly shaping our lives and healthcare. They have radically changed understandings of the pathways of disease, enabling faster, cheaper, and more accurate clinical diagnostic testing. And they lie at the heart of the development of genetically engineered drugs such as interferon and blockbuster personalized therapies such as Herceptin.
Historian of medicine Lara V. Marks recounts the risks and opposition that a daring handful of individuals faced while discovering and developing Mabs, and she addresses the related scientific, medical, technological, business, and social challenges that arose. She offers a saga of entrepreneurs who ultimately changed the healthcare landscape and brought untold relief to millions of patients. Even so, controversies over Mabs remain, which the author explores through the current debates on their cost-effectiveness.
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