Ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna, contributed to the advancement of biotechnology through his important discoveries which were among some of the major contributors to the progression of not only biotechnology but also to humanity in general. He was born in Bukhara a city in Persia in 908 (Sneader, 2005). He was an Islamic scientist-philosopher and was known to be among the most influential, famous and most recognized philosopher scientists of all time.
He was mostly known for his vast contributions and achievements in the field of medicine though he has also made recognizable contributions in other fields especially pharmacology, psychology, geology, astronomy, philosophy, chemistry, music and even in poetry (Krebs, 2010). He wrote 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects; 40 of his books that concentrated on medicine survived (Epstein, 2012). He created the Kitab al-Shifa (Book of the Cure), a huge philosophical and scientific encyclopedia, and Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (The Canon of Medicine, which is among the most prominent books in the history of medicine (Parvin, 2006).
Thus, he was a genius in is the time through the amazing knowledge he had in almost every field which is uncommon among many scholars and scientists. Some of his major discovers were: different treatments for diabetes, one of the first vivid descriptions of how the eye works, methods and treatment for rabies and paralysis, treatment and diagnosis of kidney stones, and many more (Sneader, 2005). This paper will focus on two areas that Ibn Sina contributed towards the improvement of biotechnology: the knowledge and treatment of cancer specifically and the basis of drug treatment of diseases more generally.
He made major contributions to the advancement of cancer treatment as well as in the knowledge base of its forms (Finger, 2000). He discovered that cancer was a tumor as well as identified several types of cancer such as cancer of the eye, tongue, nasal, liver, and stomach (Evan, 2006). As recognized by Ibn Sina, if the tumor is diagnosed at an early stage, it can be successfully treated; as a result he introduced many ideas on the possible diagnosis of tumors. He said, “When cancer starts, it may be possible to keep it as it is, so that it will not increase and keep it non-ulcerated.
It may happen sometimes that the stating cancer may be cured. But when it is advanced, verily will not” (Evan, 2006, p 10). Advanced tumors are treated usually by chemotherapy today and although these drugs are efficient, they are connected with severe adverse effects and drug resistance (Alam, 2007, p. 15). Ibn Sina also had considered that diet effects cancer progression.
In regard to cancer prevention he said “As to preventing its (cancer) progress, it can be achieved by improving the diet and reinforcing the involved organ by the known effective medications” (Evan, 2007, p.9), he proposed that a better-quality diet contributed a major role in reducing the number of cancer cases, he discussed that he food we ingest can possibly effect our chances of acquiring cancer in the first place (Alam, 2007). Ibn Sina realized that a cure is most likely if the cancer was identified at its earliest stage (Epstein, 2012). The first goal of a treatment strategy should be to halt the cancerous growth. He suggested surgical removal if the tumor was small and accessible, and not close to major organs.
In his Canon, Ibn Sina described four ways to treat cancer: (a) total arrest (but it is difficult); (b) preventing its progress; (c) preventing ulceration; (d) treating of ulceration (Krebs, 2010). Ibn Sina also defined one of the very early surgical treatments for cancer, in his Canon, he said: “the excision should be radical and that all diseased tissue should be removed, which included the use of amputation or the removal of veins running in the direction of the tumor so that nothing of these will be left” (Alam, 2007, p.17).
Ibn Sina also was one of the first to actually attempt cancer treatment, one method he discovered was the “Hindiba” (chicorium intybus), an herbal compound drug which scientists later recognized as having anticancer properties and could also treat other tumors and neoplastic disorders (Epstein, 2012). As a result of these discoveries, researchers and scientists have vastly improved cancer treatment. New tools for treatment, diagnosis and prevention have been designed.
Through the discoveries of Ibn Sina, it was possible for the treatment of cancer to be as advanced as it is today; we now know that the best way to treat cancer is to totally remove the cancerous tissue from the body. Some of the advanced ways of cancer treatment include surgical removal, laser therapy, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. One of the most famous discoveries of Ibn Sina is that of contagious diseases such as tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases as well as ways to quarantine the spread of the infectious diseases (Parvin, 2006).
He outlined that pollutions and hygiene were the major causes of epidemics hence, responded by coming up with drugs that could be used for possible treatment of these diseases. However, he discovered that for these drugs to be effective, they should be of good nature and high quality. He outlined ways of mixing drugs to ensure their effectiveness. In his Canon, he extensively described factors that should be put into consideration to effectively test new drugs, and laid out rules and principles for testing the effectiveness of new drugs and medications, which still form the basis of pharmacology today (Macinnis, 2010).
One of the factors that needed to be considered was that the drug was supposed to be free from any accidental quality (Harding, 2006). This meant that a drug was supposed to be tested for the possible changes that would occur if exposed to external factors such as temperature and water since on exposure to these factors, a drug could either become harmful or useless (Sneader, 2005). He also specified that experiments on drugs must be carried out on single basis and not on general basis. This meant that if the condition to be treated comprised of two opposite diseases, the drug tests on the effect of each disease (Harding, 2006).
This is due to the fact that each disease reacts differently to drugs; he realized that to reduce these variable factors, treatments should be tested in controlled environments. Another factor that was to be considered when testing drugs was the time needed for the drug to effect. An immediate effect implies that the drug has acted on the disease. “The time of action must be observed, so that essence and accident are not confused” (Alam, 2007, p. 21). However, if the initial effect contradicts a later outcome, there is uncertainty about the effectiveness of the drug thus such a drug is not suitable for treatment.
He also proposed that the drug should have generally the same effect in almost all cases. That was a sure test that the drug would be effective to a certain condition (Harding, 2006). Another principle outlined is that a significant disease requires a significant amount of drug to treat it, “The quality of the drug must correspond to the strength of the disease” (Alam, 2007, p. 23). Finally that experiment must be done on a human before being administered to the general public, that testing on animals might not show its true effects on humans (Sneader, 2005).
The impact of these discoveries to biotechnology is immeasurable. Pharmaceutical companies can now manufacture drugs that can treat diseases associated with specific genomes in this day in age but these rules created by Ibn Sina still form the basis of pharmacology knowledge today. More accurate methods of determining drug dosage have emerged, although generally speaking drugs are dispensed in equal amounts in pills and capsules because it is now common knowledge that the same amount gives the same effect to each person in general and more of it only should be given for more severe cases.
It is also common knowledge that many ingredients are mixed to form the best drug possible to target a specific issue. There has been also a significant advancement in the process of discovering drugs. Since genes have been associated with causes for different disorders, modern biotechnology is being applied to come up with new therapies. Better and safer vaccines have also been designed through genetic engineering; these vaccines improve the immune system of the body with no risk.
Finally, we know that although we can test drugs on animals in the first stages of trails, ultimately, one must test the drugs in human trials before being available to the public. In conclusion, Ibn Sina contributions to medicine and pharmacology can be termed as the pillars for the detection and treatment of many diseases. This includes treatment of heart diseases, eye problems, and discovery of the contagious nature of tuberculosis, treatment of cancer and many more. The reason behind these great discoveries was that he could not shun any means that he thought was relevant for treatment of diseases.
His contribution to biotechnology has fuelled a lot of research to determine the most effective type of medication to various diseases. His widespread discoveries have led to a new revolution both in detection and treatment of disease due to the emergence of new and more advanced techniques of dealing with diseases. References Alam, M. & Subrahmanyam, S. (2007).
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