Nowadays, in era of day-to-day breakthroughs in high technologies we do not mention how devices that were science fiction for a couple of decades ago, now are transformed into daily routines. Smartphones, computers, smartwatches and other products of familiar brands are simple in usage and clear in understanding for every young man today. Nevertheless, there are scientific spheres that are still considered by most people as hard for understanding. What is more interesting, they are assumed not having the direct impact on human lives. One of these spheres is biotechnology.
According to European Federation of Biotechnology, biotechnology is ‘the integration of natural science and organisms, cells, parts thereof, and molecular analogues for products and services’. At first view it seems to be complicated. However biotechnology has a direct impact on people, healthcare programs and economics as a whole.
Let me tell you one story. A very good friend of mine, a Ukrainian A.A., is a student here, in University of Marburg. Looking at her you will never say that something is wrong: she is always in high spirits, joyful and happy. Except one fact: she is very sick. Her disease is called Idiopatic pulmonary hypertension. It means that her lungs do not function anymore. In that sense she needed (and still needs) a donor of healthy lungs. Just for fully understanding: there are no donors of lungs and those which available are appointed by special organisation named Eurotransplant. The number of donor organs is decreasing annually. Critical situation is observed during last 3 years. Due to recent scandals in transplantology the number of donor lungs decreased dramatically. Furthermore most of them are mainly from old people, and consequently of a very bad condition. Statistic for recent year shows that out of 12 people in waiting list only one will become fitting organ.
She had a good luck and the organs transplanted were taken from a young boy died at the age of 13. With the loose of one life, the other one was saved. Not taking into account the waiting time, quality of organs, quantity of people in a waiting list, lifetime expectancy after operation, risks of transplantation and many other conditions, one of the most important facts is cost of an operation. In the year 2011 the average cost for one-lung-transplantation was approximately US$ 561,200. The average cost of two-lung-transplantation was US$ 797,300. The heart-lungs-transplantation, in case of the direct influence of bad functioning lungs on heart, was priced at US$ 1,148,400. These costs, in case of one-lung-transplantation, include a month’s worth of care leading up to the transplant; the procurement of the organ; hospital transplant admission; surgeon itself and costs for immunosuppressants and other prescription drugs. Annually, the costs for suppressants can reach $30,000. Essentially, none of healthcare organisation wanted to undertake such expenditures and in her home country she was refused to become a doctoral support, even though she gathered the needed sum of money.
There are only few clinics in the world (USA, Austria, Spain, France, Germany and recently India) which have necessary equipment and surgeons with experience in lungs transplantation. Only after two and half years of searching, the operation took place. It took also a half of a year for rehabilitation. Until today she has to visit clinic for medical check. Statistically, around nine out of 10 people will survive for at least a year after a transplant and five out of 10 will survive for at least five years. The reason of 50% death rate is deceases that occur in after operation time. A.A. is living with new lungs since 2014. The risk is: the organism will not be able to support transplanted lungs anymore and she will be looking for donor again. Unfortunately, the search of fitting organs will never end.
In the year 2015 the biotech company Revivicor from Blacksburg, Virginia informed that their researches in xenotransplantation, or between-species organ transplants, has reached new heights. The heart from a gene modified pig (GM pig) has kept alive in a baboon for 945 days and kidney for 136 days. It was the first successful transplantation from pig to primate with a long-term period effect.
With the planned breeding of 1,000 pigs a year and productivity of dozen organs per day, the waiting lists and therefore waiting time will disappear at all. Only in 2014 there were invested around $50 million in this project, and it has begun designing and building genetic add-ons, inserting them into pig cells and reproducing with the help of cloning.
In the end of experimentation a single transplant surgery will cost around $100,000. The immune suppressants will be substituted with milder medicaments. As a result the list of possible complaints will be reduced. The survival rate in a long-term prognosis will rise, respectively. Unfortunately, it will take approximately 12 years more before the first GM organs will be implanted into human beings.
The economical effect of biotech experimentations is obvious: the health care costs will be reduced; more people will be able to be employed; the death rate will be reduced and therefore the production function will increase; the law restrictions in transplantation will be mitigated and as a result more people will be operated; the possibility of new types of loans for banks for health care aims; less subsidiaries for disabled people; redirection of saved medical subsidiaries to other social programs.
To sum up, biotechnology today is far from the science that was in the beginning of 70’s. The medical researches have changed, the equipment has changed, and the way of thinking has changed too. With all scientific breakthroughs, social, economical and health positive effects the human life is above any price.
- Stephen Luntz: Artificial Lung Grown In Laboratory, 2014 (http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/artificial-lung-grown-laboratory)
- Antonio Regalado: Surgeons Smash Records with Pig-to-Primate Organ Transplants, 2015 (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/540076/surgeons-smash-records-with-pig-to-primate-organ-transplants/)
- Lung Transplant Cost: How Much Does a Lung Transplant Cost? (http://health.costhelper.com/lung-transplants.html)
- Wie viel kostet eine Lung Transplantation?, 2013 (http://www.dbgrid.net/ wJo3DaJN22/)
- Claus Neurohr: Patienten-Management nach Lungentransplantation, 2011, Klinikum Großhadern Medizinische Klinik und Poliklinik I Schwerpunkt Pneumologie;
- Lung transplant, 2014 (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Lung-transplant/Pages/Introduction.aspx)
- S. Bentley, S.G. Hanson: 2014 U.S. organ and tissue transplant cost estimates and discussion, 2014, Milliman Research Report, pp. 3-7.
- Fabian Schmidt: Organ donation in Germany hindered by transplant scandal, 2013 (http://m.dw.com/en/organ-donation-in-germany-hindered-by-transplant-scandal/a-17027343)