Within the fifteen years since the birth of MAGI Group, we wanted to interview some of the guests and speakers of the event. As in the case of Professor Stanislav Miertus, Department of Biotechnology, University of SS. Cyril and Methodius, Trnava, Slovakia and International Bioethical Study Group (MAGI) .
The Biotech Congress organized by MAGI Group on October 3-4, 2021 in Venice at the occasion of 15. Anniversary of MAGI and brought together internationally recognized experts from various fields ranging from clinical and molecular medicine, genetics, biotechnology, biology, and chemistry, several of them are involved also in bioethics issues.
The Congress appreciated extraordinary effort and results of MAGI ín the development of genetics and biotechnology. MAGI Group has become a recognized institution on international level due to precious managerial and scientific work, focus on key topics of biotechnology and genetics including among other rare diseases, obesity, COVID pandemic, etc.. Its unique contribution is also due to multidisciplinary approach, international cooperation and networking program. MAGI has established several satellite and collaborating laboratories in Europe, esp. in East Europe, Africa etc. MAGI become one of important laboratories of EBTNA network, which include many countries worldwide.
During the Congress all these aspects were thoroughly discussed. It was a consensus that the following challenges – among others – are to be addressed in the field of biotechnology and genetics:
– To further support both multidisciplinary research and international cooperation network,
– To contribute to the promotion of the research and knowledge transfer to developing countries in these fields
– To continue to address important topics, such as rare diseases, reproductive health, neurodegenerative diseases, obesity, and issues related to COVID pandemy
– To continue to pay a particular attention to Bioethics issues trough International Bioethics Commitee
Currently there is a continuous challenge in five major areas of advancement in genetic/genomics to include 1) accelerated adoption; 2) interpretation of genomic data; 3) RNA interpretation; 4) liquid biopsy; and 5) reproductive health. Therefore the development of genetics highlights important issues covering the impacts of expanded carrier screening, direct-to-consumer genetic testing, voiding of the presumed anonymity of gamete donors by advanced genetic testing, advances in the research of genetic causes underlying male and female infertility, utilisation of massively parallel sequencing in preimplantation genetic testing and non-invasive prenatal screening, mitochondrial replacement in human oocytes, and additionally, issues related to cross-generational epigenetic inheritance following in-vitro fecundation and germline genome editing. It is driven also by genomics developments, comprising mainly the ongoing transition from traditional ‘monogenic genetics’ towards comprehensive testing of the human genome by integrating massively parallel sequencing (MPS; or synonym ‘next generation sequencing’) approaches, together with advanced bioinformatics and computational biology.
I this relation, it is the evidence of grow in number and quality of genomic/genetic test laboratories and service providers. Notable changes will be an increase in the adoption of genetic risk testing of inherited disease such as cancer and heart disease. Even as we make these advances, we are still at the initial stages of genetic/genomic testing and its application in anticipating disease and determining preventive and care paths for patients.
Biotechnologies are becoming one of the key drivers of advancement of society and economy worldwide even if there is big gap between industrialized and developing countries which should be urgently and seriously addressed.
There is a wide range of sectors where biotechnologies will play increasingly important role in development, especially in medicine, pharma sectors, industrial production of goods, biofuels plastics and specialities, agri-food industries, environment and others.
COVID pandemy evidenced in less than two years a crucial role of the pharma and medicinal biotechnologies enabling to produce new vaccines, rapid testing methods and hopefully also new antiviral drugs for a global application. This effort shall continue, despite problems and conflicts. More and more countries and companies will focus their effort on the research, development and production of their own vaccines, testing methods and potential drugs. Here again there is an urgent need to tackle serious problem of the inaccessibility of these products and technologies to developing countries, especially in Africa. For example, at present, only 2% of Africa´s population are vaccinated. To alleviate this problem, it should be a priority for governments and international organizations such as WHO, but also UN, G7, G20.
Apart of this issue, there are several sectors of biotechnologies where a strong development is expected. It is for example in biomed sector, where one of key developments that will start to shape the industry over the next decade is biosensor sector. Calibrated new generation of biosensors will revolutionize how we monitor at home our health through a series of biochemical and clinical parameters from blood, but also from saliva, breath, through skin etc. A wireless device will transfer the data to a specialist also exploiting telemedicine systems. This will be also complemented by sophisticated bioinformatic approaches including adaptation of Artificial Intelligence methods.
Another exciting emergence in the biotech innovation sector is 3-D bioprinting. 3-D printing was one of the major achievements in last decade. There is a hope that the next stage is no less revolutionary, despite problems which have been appearing. I this field I expect, that by using living cells, this technology can create various human body parts such as heart valves, skin, and cartilage for use in medicine, as well as entire organs such as hearts or livers grown from a patient’s own body cells.
There are several other challenges beyond medicinal and pharma biotechnology especially in agri-food industry, animal breeding biotechnology, plant biotechnology related e.g. to the food production, supply, sustainability and safety. Other sectors are related to new generation of chemical industries using biotechnology processes as a key factor for green production.
Biotechnology and biotech innovation is expected to enter in very intense period in the years to come. New areas and fields are opening up by the decade, bringing huge potential for innovation and change. And with this the important element there will be ethical implications of such developments. Therefore, bioethics should be an intrinsic part of biotechnology developments.
Biotech, especially medicinal biotechnology, and genetics are closely linked, and it is impossible to imagine their separate development. I often emphasize the need for multidisciplinary research where it is necessary to combine several scientific disciplines in order to make the progress in research and development.
Just one selected example- Gene editing, which is a promising sector of medicinal biotechnology linked to genetics. There was a time when sequencing the human genome was a massive project at the cutting edge of science. The barrier seemed to be a high cost, however today, sequencing your genome has become a cheap procedure, dropping from $100 million to much less than $1000 during last decade. With greater understanding of our genetics comes greater capacity for their manipulation. And gene editing currently stands as one of the most exciting areas within the biotech industry. As mentioned above, this approach hopes to use genetic engineering to help treat millions of people afflicted with hereditary diseases. For example, recently a platform known as CRISPR/Cas9 was introduced to cure ailments through gene therapy. In addition, the plan is to offer services for in-utero and in-vitro patients to screen for hereditary diseases before birth. Producing new gene components, epigenetic factors and novel genomes from chemically synthesized nucleic acids is an area which has been growing steadily in recent years.
Obviously, there are many other examples.
Environmental and ecological concerns are fast becoming a major area of focus. We are entering into environmental global crisis and that´s why restrictive measures are entering in place on one side and on the other side the massive investments are planned to reduce environmental impact of products and processes. In fact, European Union has announced Europe’s transition to a circular economy, and rules to boost green growth and resource efficiency. The new circular economy action plan is a key part of the European Green Deal, Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth. One material that has seen the most dramatic shift in the public consciousness is plastic. For example, the estimates state that as much as 12.7million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year and it takes hundreds of years to break down and poses a huge threat to marine life. The same problem is with the municipal plastics waste, especially the nondegradable plastics used for packaging. Here again the biotechnology is entering in game. For example, new biotechnological processes are being developed to produce biodegradable plastics such as PHA -Polyhydroxyalcanoates. Genetically manipulated microorganisms are being employed to make the process efficient. However, the challenge is to make the production process efficient and scaled-up. Related biotechnological challenge is to search for microorganisms capable to degrade non degradable waste plastics (obviously with some oxidative pre-treatment/. In the next step products of degradation are used as a substrate – carbon source for microbial production of PHA or other bioplastics.
In addition to bioplastics, biofuels will also see an increase in their market share as they are part of obligatory component standards for transport biofuels – bio-diesel and bio-gasoline B7, E10.Similarily biofuels for heating and energy production. There is a need to pass from 1.st to next generations of biofuels – 2nd, 3rd, 4th – produced through new biotechnology processes employing also genetically manipulated micro-organisms. The challenge is here to overcome the efficiency/costs problems. Parallelly, the concept of biorefineries is expected to be further developed in which biotechnologies will play a central role.