Preserving Health with Biotechnology
Early antibiotics commandeered natural substances produced by microorganisms, such as penicillin, to fight human diseases. With the advent of recombinant DNA technology in the late 1970s, scientists became able to make microbes and tumor cells produce something other than their own natural substances—substances that are natural to the human body but in critically short supply. Through genetic engineering, scientists have succeeded in synthetically producing hormones like insulin and erythropoietin, as well as a new hepatitis vaccine. And the list of such pharmaceuticals continues to grow.
The invention of recombinant DNA technology was largely the work of Paul Berg, Herbert Boyer, and Stanley N. Cohen. This technology led to a new era of biotechnology start-up companies, including Boyer’s Genentech, which developed genetically engineered hormones with important medical applications.
William Rutter and his team of scientists, in collaboration with both industrial and academic researchers, developed a revolutionary vaccine for hepatitis B, Recombivax HB, using recombinant DNA techniques.
George Rathmann and Fu-Kuen Lin of the biotech company Amgen developed recombinant erythropoietin (Epogen®), sparing hundreds of thousands of anemic patients from expensive blood transfusions that carried the risk for hepatitis and AIDS infections.