Genetically Modified Medicine

Published March 1, 2000

Though controversy surrounds the use of genetically modified seeds for growing such food staples as corn and soybeans, GM techniques are standard practice in medicine–and have been for decades.

In 1982, Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis, Indiana developed the first human insulin of recombinant DNA origin. Through this technology, which requires the identification and then reproduction of a specific desired gene, scientists can create insulin identical to the hormone produced by the human body.

Doyia Chadwick of Eli Lilly told Environment & Climate News the genetically modified insulin is superior to animal-source insulin, made from ground-up pig and cow pancreas glands. Human insulin produced by genetic engineering boasts high levels of purity, since it is made under lab conditions, and the supply is unlimited.

Recombinant DNA technology has led to the development of other important therapies, such as human growth hormone. Lilly’s Humatrope is an amino acid sequence identical to that of the human growth hormone of the pituitary gland. It is used as a drug in pediatric patients whose own bodies do not produce enough growth hormone.

Even Celebrex, a drug recently introduced to reduce pain and inflammation from arthritis, has its roots in biotechnology. Though not made from recombinant DNA technology, its development depended on biotechnology techniques, according to a Searle spokesperson.