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Biological Products And Disease Prevention

History of Disease Prevention

By Susan L. Valentino, Ph.D. From the earliest days of medical knowledge, all information pertaining to drugs and their use in Western culture was designated "materia medica" (literally, medical matter). The most famous commentary on drugs, was written by Dioscorides in the first century AD, and covered more than 600 plant drugs and a number of animal and mineral products.

Slowly, as the amount of knowledge increased, two disciplines emerged. By the early 19th century pharmacology (the actions of drugs) and pharmacognosy (all aspects of drugs with less emphasis on actions) had been established as the first medical fields.

Later in the 19th century, chemists began to synthesize large numbers of organic compounds, some of which had useful therapeutic qualities. Because these products were synthetic, they fell under the discipline of medical chemistry. Thus, there came to be three disciplines devoted to drugs: pharmacology (drug actions), pharmacognosy (biological materials intended for therapeutic use) and medical chemistry (the science of synthetic drugs intended for therapeutic use).

In the mid-twentieth century, pharmacognosy and medical chemistry began to merge. At this point, in spite of the continued utilization of a large number of drugs from biological sources, both teaching and research efforts concentrated on synthetic drugs.

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Biotechnology is the use of biological materials for the production of useful products. This includes but is not limited to: wine, beer, cheese making, and fermentations that produce antibiotics.

The Immune System is the Only Line of Defense

It is a simple truth that all disease results from some sort of immune system failure.


Immunomodulators, also known as biological response modifiers (BRM's) are substances that modify the immune response. The BRM's produced in the body include: interleukins, interferons, colony-stimulating factors.

There is evidence that biological products from food and other sources enhance the action of BRM's produced by the immune system. These compounds fight cancer, arthritis, cholesterol imbalance, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, high blood pressure, glaucoma, stroke, hepatitis, epilepsy, Chron's disease, multiple sclerosis and infectious disease.



Vaccines are used to stimulate the production of antibodies, they can be directed against viruses or bacteria. There are several different types of vaccines: some are the actual infectious organism weakened, some are the whole organism killed, some are organisms related to the infectious one but not themselves infectious, some are just parts of the infectious organism, some are genetically engineered infectious organisms, and some are completely synthetic.

Viral Vaccines

Most viral vaccines contain living or weakened virus. Some of these include: mumps, rubella, measles, hepatitis, small pox, yellow fever, rabies, flu, and polio.

Bacterial Vaccines

Most bacterial vaccines contain weakened or killed bacteria. Some of these include: typhoid, cholera, plague, pertussis, tuberculosis, bacterial meningitis, pneumonia, and diptheria.


Anthrax is produced by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis. A tough protective coat allows the bacteria to survive for decades as spores. It is an infectious bacterial disease spread by contact with infected animals, handling infected products, eating infected meat, or breathing weapon-dispersed anthrax spores. The Anthrax vaccine, like all vaccines helps the immune system prevent the Anthrax bacteria (as spores) from growing, getting a foothold and producing toxins that cause illness and death.

Anthrax is dangerous because, it is:

  • Highly lethal

  • One of the easiest biological agents to manufacture

  • Relatively easy to develop as a weapon

  • Easily spread in the air over a large area

  • Easily stored and dangerous for a long period

  • Three types of Anthrax infection:

    • Cutaneous Anthrax - primarily involving the skin,caused by contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products.
    • Gastrointestinal Anthrax - caused by eating of contaminated meat.
    • Inhalation Anthrax - caused by inhaling anthrax spores

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Incubation period - 1 to 6 days between exposure and symptoms.

Symptoms of inhalation anthrax include:

  • Viral-like aches and pains, fever, malaise, fatigue, cough and mild chest discomfort followed by severe difficulty breathing

Diagnosed by:

  • Isolating the bacteria from blood, other body fluids or skin lesions

  • Blood culture

  • Measuring specific antibodies late in the course of the disease


  • Treatment is usually not effective after symptoms are present.

  • High dose antibiotic treatment after symptoms appear can lower the death rate from 99% to about 80%.

What these bacteria do:

The disease occurs when spores enter lungs, migrate to the lymph nodes, change to the bacterial form, multiply, and produce toxins.

These toxins cause bleeding and destruction of structures in the middle of the chest (medical term: hemorrhagic necrotizin mediastinitis).
Immune Involvement:

The Anthrax vaccine helps the immune system, in a specific way, prevent the Anthrax bacteria (as spores) from growing, getting a foothold and producing toxins that cause illness and death. However, it is the immune system not the vaccine that fights the infection. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that anything that enhances immune function in an appropriate manner would help ward off disease. There have always been people throughout history, "immune" to deadly disease (without vaccination), more responsive to immunization, or completely non-responsive to immunization, this is the result of differences in immune status of individuals.

Data Sources:

Chin J, ed. Control of Communicable Diseases Manual, 17th ed. Washington, DC: American Public Health Association 2000

Brachman PS, Friedlander AM. Anthrax. In: Plotkin SA, Orenstein WA, ed. Vaccines, 3rd ed. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1999 (not available online)

Inglesby TV, Henderson DA, Bartlett JG, Ascher MS, Eitzen E, Friedlander AM, Hauer J, McDade J, Osterholm MT, O'Toole T, Parker G, Perl TM, PK, Tonat K, Working Group on Civilian Biodefense. Anthrax as a biological weapon: Medical and public health management. Journal of the American Medical Association 1999;281:1735-45