Genetic engineering has produced a variety of drugs and hormones for medical use. For example, one of the earliest uses of genetic engineering in pharmaceuticals was gene splicing to manufacture large amounts of insulin, made using cells of E. coli bacteria. Interferon, which is used to eliminate certain viruses and kill cancer cells, also is a product of genetic engineering, as are tissue plasminogen activator and urokinase, which are used to dissolve blood clots. Another byproduct is a type of human growth hormone; it's used to treat dwarfism and is produced through genetically engineered bacteria and yeasts.
The evolving field of gene therapy involves manipulating human genes to treat or cure genetic diseases and disorders. Modified plasmids or viruses often are the messengers to deliver genetic material to the body's cells, resulting in the production of substances that should correct the illness. Sometimes cells are genetically altered inside the body; other times scientists modify them in the laboratory and return them to the patient's body. Since the 1990s, gene therapy was has been used in clinical trials to treat diseases and conditions such as AIDS, cystic fibrosis, cancer and high cholesterol. Drawbacks of gene therapy are that sometimes the person's immune system destroys the cells that have been genetically altered, and that it's hard to get the genetic material into enough cells to have the desired effect.
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