Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

My Body, My Factory

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

My Body, My Factory

Article excerpt

My Body, My Factory

With commercial surrogacy under a cloud following the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision in the Baby M case and with the possibility of transmission of viral diseases requiring increased scrutiny of such activities as prostitution and the sale of blood and other body fluids, those seeking profit from the human body must begin to look elsewhere. If people are willing to be a little creative, relief may be at hand.

Using techniques of genetic engineering, scientists have been able to introduce new genes into bacteria and higher animals, transforming them into drug makers. Bacteria are cheaper, but large or complex proteins often require more complicated cell machinery. For example, Integrated Genetics has reported success with introducing a gene into mice that causes them to produce the expensive anti-clotting agent tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) in their milk (New York Times, September 2, 1987, D6). Other genes for human proteins have been introduced into sheep, but no proteins produced in this fashion have yet been used therapeutically.

Could enterprising humans someday modify these techniques to transform their bodies into protein factories? To create mice or sheep capable of secreting proteins in their milk, scientists currently inject desired genes into newly fertilized eggs in vitro and then reimplant surviving embryos. In humans this degree of preplanning would substantially limit the technique's attractiveness. The harvesting of proteins from human milk would also restrict its applicability to women. Moreover, obtaining milk from mice requires oxytocin injections followed by mammary massage, which might lead otherwise willing women to demur.

Not to worry. New techniques involving fibroblasts (that is, skin cells) have shown that human genes can be inserted into these cells and expressed both in vitro and following reimplantation in mice. A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine (October 22, 1987, 1067-76) describes the introduction of insulin-producing genes into skin cells that continued to function after being injected into the peritioneal cavities of mice. Investigators have also successfully inserted genes for growth hormone into human skin cells. The skin cells formed normal looking grafts on mice but failed to produce measurable amounts of hormone ("Expression of an Exogenous Growth Hormone Gene by Transplantable Human Epidermal Cells," Science, September 18, 1987, 1476-79). …

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