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Synthetic Biology and Genomic Medicine

MIT Stata Center_051118
(MIT Ray and Maria Stata Center, Jenny Fowter)


- Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology is disrupting consumer products, food, agriculture, medicine, chemicals, materials, and more. Synthetic biology, or next-generation biotechnology, is the design and construction of new biological components, devices, and systems, as well as the redesign of existing natural biological systems for useful purposes. It aims to (re)design and manufacture biological components and systems that do not yet exist in nature. This multidisciplinary field of science and technology promises to provide new solutions to some of the world's toughest problems, from food security to climate change to cancer treatment. 

Synthetic biology combines disciplines within these fields, such as biotechnology, genetic engineering, molecular biology, molecular engineering, systems biology, membrane science, biophysics, chemical and biological engineering, electrical and computer engineering, control engineering and evolution biology. Synthetic biology applies these disciplines to build artificial biological systems for research, engineering, and medical applications. 

Efforts in synthetic biology have advanced the use of cell-free systems for the preparation of proteins and metabolites and the definition of metabolic networks. First, these technological advancement efforts focus on understanding the organization and behavior of plant and microbial systems, with an emphasis on defining the chemical environment and molecular mechanisms that facilitate productive interfaces between plants and bacteria. 

Synthetic biology uses genetic tools such as gene editing to design new biological products and processes; the increasing standardization and automation of these tools makes synthetic biology increasingly accurate and efficient.


- Synthetic Biology and Personalized Medicine

Personalized medicine -- from a one-size-fits-all to a tailored approach. Each of us has our own unique genome, a complete set of genetic instructions. Through DNA sequencing, we can create a detailed map of an individual's genome and then look for genetic alterations or patterns that indicate potential risks or may be drivers of specific diseases.

For some cancers in particular, known genomic alterations have been shown to drive tumor growth. Knowing whether a tumor has this specific change can help doctors determine the right treatment for that patient. But even beyond cancer, this knowledge could help researchers develop more effective drugs, allowing doctors to diagnose and treat disease with greater precision. 

Synthetic biology, the application of synthetic chemistry to biology, is a broad term that covers the engineering of biological systems with structures and functions not found in nature to process information, manipulate chemicals, generate energy, maintain cells environment and enhancing human health. 

Synthetic biology devices not only help improve our understanding of disease mechanisms, but also provide new diagnostic tools. Methods based on synthetic biology enable the design of new strategies for the treatment of cancer, immune diseases, metabolic disorders and infectious diseases, as well as the production of inexpensive drugs. 

Potential for synthetic genomes, using an expanded genetic code designed for specific drug synthesis and delivery and activation of drugs in vivo through pathological signaling.


- Molecular Genetics and Genomics

Genetics is the study of the information system behind a biological system and how it is transmitted across generations. Genomics is the genome-wide analysis and manipulation of genetic information. Discoveries in these areas help to elucidate the basis of living systems and can identify the causes and potential treatments of human disease. 

The astonishing advances in molecular genetics and the transition to genomic medicine over the past 5 years were unimaginable in 1970, when the Institute of Medicine (IOM), now the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), was established. "Genomics" The term has not yet been coined, the tools and techniques that underlie modern biotechnology are still in their infancy, and even a few nucleotide sequencing methods are hardly feasible. 

In 1987, The New York Times Magazine described the Human Genome Project as "the largest, most expensive, and most provocative biomedical research project in history." But in the years between the project's launch in 1990 and its completion in 2003, genomic technology has come a long way. The increase in DNA sequencing throughput from 1,000 base pairs per day to more than 1,000 base pairs per second has opened the door for low-cost sequencing technologies to enable genomic advances to be integrated into routine healthcare. Genome research has evolved from seeking to understand the fundamentals of the human genetic code to examining how that code changes in populations, and then applying that knowledge to interventions tailored to the underlying causes of disease.


- Genomic Medicine 

Gene therapy, stem cell therapy, CAR T, cell therapy, and gene editing are all forms of genomic medicine—an approach to curing and treating human disease using human biology rather than lab-made compounds. All of these tools are unlocking technologies and therapies with the ability to cure previously untreatable diseases. Their use has ushered in a new era of healthcare. 

Genomic medicine is an emerging medical discipline that involves the use of an individual's genomic information as part of their clinical care (eg, for diagnosis or treatment decisions) and the health outcomes and policy implications of that clinical use. Genomic medicine is already making an impact in the fields of oncology, pharmacology, rare and undiagnosed diseases, and infectious diseases. 

It takes many years to translate new discoveries into patient care. Genomic medicine is beginning to drive new approaches in certain medical specialties. Oncology, in particular, is leading the way in integrative genomics, as the diagnosis of genetic and genomic markers is increasingly included in cancer screening and guides tailored treatment strategies.


[More to come ...]

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