Biotech advances show human health linked to animal welfare
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For centuries, humans have shared a bond with animals unlike any other — one so strong that it has been scientifically shown to improve the emotional and mental health of people who spend time with nature’s magnificent creatures. 

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Here in Washington, D.C., most elected officials are focused on creating a better future for their human constituents, so animal welfare concerns frequently get short shrift. This is a profound mistake, for the health and safety of humans and animals are intertwined. 

As a state legislator in Pennsylvania, I passed laws to ban puppy mills and to allow high school students to dissect frogs virtually so fewer of the animals would be killed for their cadavers. As a member of Congress, I was approached by Jane Goodall during the AIDS epidemic about her concerns for chimpanzees being used in medical testing. I passed a bill to establish chimp sanctuaries in Louisiana where they could live in natural surroundings rather than being kept in cages.

These days, when I’m not on the clock as CEO of the world’s largest biotechnology trade association, I can often be found in a forest observing the majesty of our avian friends. I’m an avid birder and a board member of the National Audubon Society. 

Today, November 3, 2016, is One Health Day, when we affirm that the health of human beings is inextricably linked to the health of animals and the environment we share. This fundamental appreciation of biological connectedness underlies biotechnology research and product development.

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Animal biotechnology is a rapidly growing field due to the vast benefits it can bring to both human and animal health. For example, by carefully modifying the genome of livestock to provide disease resistance, we simultaneously improve animal health, welfare and food safety.

This practice reduces the use of antibiotics in livestock, helping to preserve an antibiotic’s clinical efficacy in humans. By using biotechnology to reduce disease in livestock, we lessen the likelihood of microbes infecting humans. Indeed, six out of every 10 infectious diseases found in humans are spread by animals.

Scientists have genetically modified chickens so they do not transmit avian influenza virus to other chickens. This advance could prevent the spread of avian flu outbreaks within poultry flocks and has the potential to reduce the threat of a bird flu epidemic in the human population. 

Maryland-based Intrexon has created genetically modified mosquitoes whose offspring cannot survive. When released into high-risk areas, they decrease the number of invasive mosquitoes that carry diseases such as Zika and dengue fever.

Last year in Piracicaba, Brazil, the release of these “friendly mosquitos” in two neighborhoods reduced the disease-carrying mosquito population by 90 percent. As a result, the number of annual cases of dengue fever in that area dropped from 133 to just one.

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Animal biotechnology is also key to discovering, developing and manufacturing new treatments for human diseases. Animal models of human diseases have helped scientists understand how and why a particular disease develops and what can be done to halt or reverse the process.

Additionally, cloning techniques offer the possibility of preserving the genetics of endangered species to promote greater biodiversity.

Animal biotechnology also offers an elegant solution to the real problem of recruiting enough patients to conduct human trials for conditions that impact small patient populations.

Small biotechnology companies in the Midwest, such as Exemplar Genetics and Recombinetics, are using cutting-edge gene technologies to create swine models so researchers can develop orphan drugs to treat rare diseases. SAB Biotherapeutics, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., has bred genetically engineered bovine to make human antibodies that fight disease and even halt pandemics, such as Ebola.

The human-animal bond has existed for thousands of years. It is unique and unbreakable.

Today, many people with once-fatal diseases are alive and healthy thanks to scientific breakthroughs made possible by studying animals. Tomorrow, thanks to ongoing advances in animal biotechnology, we can envision an even more hopeful and humane future for our planet, its people and our animal friends. 

Greenwood is CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.