More biotechnology studies could save lives

“WE used to see these things and think they belong to white people, but we can do them.

“In Tanzania, for the first time, we have started kidney transplant, we have already transplanted 11 patients at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) and one from Benjamini Mkapa Hospital, so things are possible,”.

This was said by Dr Stella Rwezaula from Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), where he said if this is possible, it is good for the government through the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) to invest in Tanzanians in such important technologies.

This type of treatment involves the harvesting, processing and transplantation of living blood cells that are given to people with leukemia and gland cancers.

The treatment is also given to patients who cannot produce live blood cells, including those with tuberculosis.

Dr Rwezaula says that such technologies are possible in this country, what is needed is to enable Tanzanian scientists to carry out these studies to save the lives of Tanzanians and that scientists in this country can do better than researchers in other countries who started doing these technologies.

The doctor explains that when technology develops in terms of industry, it causes the emergence of various diseases that did not exist in the past.

“There are genetic changes that are not normal and lead to new diseases, that’s why people are saying that there are many new diseases that are occurring and many of them are cancerous.

“These days there are all kinds of cancers and many diseases are emerging that we must now fight. Many diseases such as cancer or hereditary diseases caused by genetic changes must be fought with genetic therapies.

“So right now we are using technology to treat hereditary diseases that we used to think could not be completely cured, such as tuberculosis, hemophilia and cancer.

He says that in the past when a person was suffering from cancer, it seemed that the end has come, but now there are various types of technology that can cure the patient or treat him and remove the symptoms or if possible completely cure the disease, if possible prevent the hereditary disease from being inherited from that person to his generation.

Biotechnology is technology that uses living organisms to produce the crops you want or set up systems to solve problems.

“For example, if you take yeast and make pastries, it is biotechnology, if you make local alcohol it is biotechnology, but we have been using biotechnology to transplant animals, you want to buy a cow that gives a lot of milk but is resistant to diseases, you go to look for a bull and breed until you find what you want, it is biotechnology,” Lecturer and Researcher from the University of Dar es Salaam, Dr Ally Mahadhy says.

He says that the technology of genetic engineering (GMO) has come in, where a person can take the information neded from an organism that has the characteristic he wants by giving it to an organism that does not.

“This genetic engineering technology is not profitable if we don’t use it, we already have products that we use with great pleasure, products of genetic engineering, for example, insulin, which is used by people with diabetes to reduce sugar, which originally came from humans and pigs before engineering. The gene for insulin was made from pigs using its pancreas, where they slaughter a pig, take the pancreas and milk it to clean it, you need to have an average of five tons of pancreas to get half a kilo of insulin.

“Now, if there was no biotechnology, I don’t know how many pigs we would be killing until insulin for diabetes is available, because the demand is high. Five tons of pancreas means you have slaughtered a lot of pigs,” he says.

Regarding the contribution of modern biotechnology in moving towards the fourth industrial revolution, a biotechnology lecturer and researcher from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Dr Daniel Maeda admits that cell diseases are currently being treated by gene editing.

He says that, what is being done is to remove the error and put a correct copy so the patient continues to live, adding that there are patients who have been treated.

“Diabetes patients are familiar with insulin therapy, which is used all over the world, now it is based on modern biotechnology. In the 1930s, it was from dogs where they collected a dog’s pancreas, ground it and filtered insulin and then gave it to people. You can imagine how many such patients there are in the world and how many dogs there are,” he says.

And Dr Brian Tarimo from the Ifakara Health Institute in Morogoro Region says that in order to deal with the mosquito that infects malaria, they have now been able to use modern technology and make the mosquito unable to transmit malaria.

“We can assure the laboratory that if the mosquito takes the blood of a person with malaria, the tests show that it does not have malaria parasites,” he says.

He says that malaria has been killing nearly 620,000 people a year, although the methods of treating it are known, but malaria still exists, so science is the only solution.

For his part, a researcher from Ethiopia, Daba Tadessa, says that genetic modification (GMO) is one of the methods of modern biotechnology that involve transferring genes or genes that carry characteristics from one organism and adding it to another organism in an unnatural way to obtain a genetically improved organism.

“There is nothing wrong with the technology of genetic change, because we use that technology in therapy and medicine. A good example is the production of insulin medicine for diabetics or vaccines to prevent human and animal diseases, which pass directly into the bloodstream or muscles.

“In food, it is processed and digested and finally absorbed as protein or other types of food from any source that follows this procedure.

On the other hand, another researcher from Burkina Faso, Dr Traore Edgar sees genetic engineering technology (GMO) as another technology for the improvement of human life.

“It is very easy to send messages, sounds and pictures using smart phones, unlike in the past where we used to send messages through the post office.

“However, there are still concerns about this technology in the seed area,” he says.

Explaining the experience of Burkina Faso in the genetic engineering technology in the cotton crop, he says private producers have supported it.

He admits that in Africa, the technology has brought about an agricultural revolution in South Africa, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.

“Using this technology, seeds can develop their immunity against insects, thus providing a solution in a normal where earlier it required manpower to do the work,” he says.

He says that recent studies show that GMOs are capable of producing insulin-containing protein in crops to help diabetic patients receive insulin injections.

But he also says that the technology has the ability to create immunity against viral diseases and nutrients.

“However, GMO is still feared in Africa due to the opposing debates that are going on against it,” he says.

He advises that right now Africa, after missing the global green revolution, has a chance to monopolize such innovative technologies so that it can be self-sufficient by having enough food.

Dr. Mahadhy of UDSM says that most of the Covid-19 vaccines that many people used are based on GMO products.

“On Covid-19, we got a quick vaccine because the world had the ability to make other vaccines for diseases like Ebola.

He advises that it is important to invest research in accordance with the needs in the country.

“Let’s look at the technology and its benefits and if there is a challenge it will be resolved, just like other technologies have challenges, what we need to do is to put in place systems to ensure that we get the benefits and avoid losses,” he says.

For his part, a researcher from the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), Dr Deusideth Mbanzibwa says the country’s policies allow research, all that is required is to follow the country’s established procedures.

The government of Tanzania prepared and defined the National Biotechnology Policy of 2010, the National Agricultural Policy of 2013 as well as the National Modern Biotechnology Management System of 2005.

This system includes the National Environmental Policy of the year 2021 preceded by the Policy of the year 1997, the Environmental Management Act of 2004 as well as the Guidelines and Regulations for Managing the Safe Use of Modern Biotechnology of 2009 as amended in 2015 to enable research to be carried out here in the country.

Considering this, on February 12 last year Vice President Dr Philip Mpango launched the new Environmental Policy for 2021 in Dodoma.

The Minister of Agriculture Hussein Bashe instructed the Sokoine University (SUA), to collaborate with the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), to conduct biotechnology experiments.

“We must know about GMO, because we don’t know if the world will force us to use it in the next 20 years,” he says.

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