The future of healthcare is in our genes

Ella Castle

Indian healthcare system, healthcare issues in India, global healthcare landscape, future of Indian healthcare system, treatment of various health conditions, gene and cell therapy, mainstream healthcare, genetic disorders, idnian express newsis no longer a distant dream but an imminent imperative. A paradigm shift in our perspectives on medical treatment is […]

Indian healthcare system, healthcare issues in India, global healthcare landscape, future of Indian healthcare system, treatment of various health conditions, gene and cell therapy, mainstream healthcare, genetic disorders, idnian express newsis no longer a distant dream but an imminent imperative. A paradigm shift in our perspectives on medical treatment is necessary.

India, with its diverse population, has long grappled with the burden of genetic disorders. Gene therapy is not just about managing symptoms — it is about rewriting the genetic code that underlies these conditions. Conditions like Thalassemia and Sickle Cell Anaemia have cast a long shadow over the lives of individuals and families. Consider the sheer magnitude of the issue: Over 40 million individuals in India are estimated to be affected by these diseases, together called haemoglobinopathies.

Traditional treatments often involve lifelong management, such as regular blood transfusions. Gene therapy offers a beacon of hope by addressing the root cause — the genetic mutations responsible for these conditions. By introducing functional genes and repairing the faulty ones, gene therapy offers not just treatment but the potential for a cure. The development of targeted therapies for rare diseases not only transforms individual lives of the millions in India that suffer but also addresses a critical gap in healthcare — providing treatments for conditions that are, by definition, rare. The imperative, therefore, lies in investing in research and infrastructure to make these transformative therapies accessible to those who need them.

Cancer, a formidable adversary in India’s healthcare landscape, demands more than traditional treatment approaches at affordable cost. With over 1.16 million new cancer cases reported annually, the imperative for gene and cell therapy becomes glaringly apparent. The promise lies in precision medicine, a tailored approach that considers the unique genetic makeup of each patient. Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy, or CAR-T therapy, exemplifies this precision. By modifying a patient’s own immune cells to recognise and target cancer cells, CAR-T therapy opens new frontiers in personalised cancer treatment. India’s genetic diversity adds complexity to cancer treatment, and here lies the beauty of gene/cell therapy — it can be customised to the individual’s unique genetic profile, potentially making treatments more effective and reducing the side effects associated with conventional approaches.

Infectious diseases always pose a major challenge to public health just like the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in unprecedented dire consequences. Subtropical India has always been prone to infections ranging from viral pathogens like dengue to tuberculosis. The anti-Covid-19 mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, which are, theoretically, gene-therapy products, have been ground-breaking. Conditions like Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), commonly known as the “bubble boy” disease, can potentially be treated with gene therapy to correct genetic mutations and restore normal immune function, offering protection against a wide range of infections. CAR-T cell therapy is also being investigated as a potential treatment for many viral diseases like dengue, HIV/AIDS, cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). By modifying immune cells to better recognise and eliminate viral threats, genetic medicine becomes a potent weapon in the fight against infectious diseases.

Festive offer

As demographic and lifestyle changes shape new health challenges, gene and cell therapies go beyond treatment and embody a vision for the future of healthcare in the nation. These therapies anticipate and prepare for a future where precise and personalised treatments become the norm.

Furthermore, gene therapy holds the potential to alleviate economic burdens associated with chronic genetic conditions. By moving towards curative solutions, long-term healthcare costs can be reduced, paving the way for a more sustainable and inclusive healthcare model.

Despite the immense potential, the integration of gene and cell therapy into mainstream healthcare in India comes with its own set of challenges. From infrastructure limitations to ethical considerations, the journey is not without hurdles. However, these challenges present opportunities for collaborative efforts — bringing together scientific communities, industries, policymakers, and healthcare providers. Investing in research and development, creating regulatory frameworks that balance innovation with ethical considerations, and fostering a supportive ecosystem for biotechnology are crucial steps. Biopharmaceutical industry needs a paradigm shift in their business models and strategy to develop and market these therapies. Additionally, enhancing awareness among healthcare professionals and the public is essential for its successful integration into the broader healthcare landscape.

The promise of cures for genetic disorders, precision cancer treatments, and innovative solutions for infectious diseases beckon us towards a health revolution. India has the opportunity to position itself at the forefront of medical innovation, setting the stage for a healthier and more resilient nation. The revolution is underway, and the imperative is clear — gene and cell therapy are not just treatments; they are the future of healthcare.

The writer is a senior principal scientist at CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory. Views are personal

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