Medical biotechnology is the use of living cells and cell materials to research and produce pharmaceutical and diagnostic products that help treat and prevent human diseases. Most medical biotechnologists work in academic or industrial settings. In academic laboratories, these professionals conduct experiments as part of medical research studies; industrial biotechnologists work toward developing drugs or vaccines. The medical biotechnology field has helped bring to market microbial pesticides, insect-resistant crops, and environmental clean-up techniques.
Examples of discoveries in the field of medical biotechnology include insulin and growth hormone. Both discoveries were the result of research studies related to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Many scientists in the medical biotechnology field study genetic engineering. This involves isolating, identifying, and sequencing the human genes to determine their functions. Work in this arena may possibly lead to cures for certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s syndrome.
Academic biotechnologists work in universities, hospitals, government labs, or nonprofit organizations. Some may conduct research on studies they began in graduate school. Others may initiate new areas of medical biotechnological research.
Industrial biotechnologists typically work for private businesses that are conducting applied research, which is directed toward solving a particular medical issue. Their findings often lead to new pharmaceutical drugs and medical treatments. Work in the industrial field tends to be geared more toward the financial goals of the business that employs these scientists. Industrial biotechnologists may be required to explain or defend their work to non-scientists who have decision-making powers in the business.
Entry-level jobs in the medical biotechnology field fall in several categories. These include research and development, quality control, clinical research, manufacturing, regulatory affairs, information systems, and administration. Professionals entering the field may begin as research assistants, quality control analysts, clinical coordinators, or biostatisticians.
There generally are two paths for graduate study. Prospective biotechnologists can either pursue a master’s degree followed by a doctorate, or enroll in a joint medical doctorate/doctorate of philosophy (MD-PhD) program. Getting a master’s and PhD in the field of medical biotechnology usually takes about six years. Students in this program pick a specialty such as genetics, pathology or bioinformatics. The MD-PhD path usually takes eight years, and students receive both clinical and research skills.