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While GMOs are no stranger to the pharmaceutical industry, genetically modified organisms could be used to mass-produce enzymes in treatment for rare diseases.

According to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications, an enzyme called alpha-L-iduronidase absent in a condition known as lysosomal storage disease, may warrant the use of GMO corn.

To replicate the enzyme with a mammalian cell culture is extremely cost prohibitive—costing hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient per year—but researchers think there may be a way to use the GMO corn to reduce costs while still treating the condition.

The research team was able to bypass a common glitch in using plants to express human proteins. They used the genetic modification technology to stop the corn from creating a sugar component. And it’s made the technology one of the first to be successful in creating the potential for mass-production of human enzymes in plants. Recent research also created a modified enzyme for the rare Gaucher disease.

Medical science communities are embracing the discovery as the technology could make treating these rare conditions less costly, and even easier, but they could also be safer…once you get past the GMO technology itself. The risk of enzyme development is contamination from pathogens or prions present in human or other mammalian tissue. The plant/seed systems do not present that risk. However, GMO technology presents its own set of health risks.

Experts are equally concerned about the results of a recent study out of France that showed an increased risk of cancer and damage to the kidneys and liver after exposure to the pesticide glyphosate commonly used on genetically modified crops. And dozens of other studies have connected GMOs to health issues.

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Image: Tulane Public Relations