Enzymes are naturally occurring bio-catalysts found in the living organisms.
They facilitate many biochemical reactions in the body.
The enzyme reaction can be within the cell cytoplasm, nucleus or even outside the cell.
They require a specific set of conditions for efficient function. These conditions include optimal temperature, pH, the concentration of substrate, etc.
But due to advanced knowledge and technology, these enzymes are isolated for human use by various methods.
So we can see many enzymes in the list of medicines prescribed by doctors today.
They are extracted and isolated from plants & animals and then stored for future use.
But how come they are stable outside the body?
They are so stable due to a process namely enzyme immobilization technique.
But due to growth is population and huge demand, they are also manufactured by the principle of recombinant DNA technology.
Due to many possible applications, the enzymes meant for one purpose by nature are exploited for additional uses.
The current uses of enzymes include health care, industries of food, cloth, leather, etc.
Applications of enzymes in medicine
Medical uses of enzymes are quite large like
- To treat enzyme related disorders.
- To assist in metabolism
- To assist in drug delivery.
- To diagnose & detect diseases.
- Also during the manufacture of medicines.
1 Enzymes used to treat disorders:
Enzymes are used in three cases here
a) To break the internal blood clots.
b) To dissolve the hardening of walls of blood vessels.
c) To dissolve the wound swelling to promote healing.
In some disorders like low blood pressure, or head or spinal injuries, there are chances of formation of blood clots. These clots lead to obstruction of blood flow to the target organ. This can be life-threatening if it is in the brain or heart which require a constant supply of oxygen and energy. The only way out then is to dissolve the clots.
These clots are usually removed by dissolution by enzymes that can break them.
Examples of such enzymes like Streptokinase, Urokinase.
Similarly when there is atherosclerosis, hardening and thickening of blood vessel walls. This can lead to heart problems if untreated. The best way out at this junction is to decrease the fat intake and also dissolve the formed thickenings. Enzymes like serratiopeptidase and other work well.
For wound healing, the swelling formed might be painful and tend to form pus. Enzymes trypsin, chymotrypsin, serratiopeptidase are used to dissolve the swelling.
2 Enzymes used to assist metabolism: In old or geriatric patients, the digestive capacity is low due to insufficient secretion of digestive enzymes. Hence their digestive system cannot digest food materials efficiently. In such cases, they can experience malnutrition, constipation, bloating, etc. To aid digestion, enzymes like Papain are administered orally after food for easier digestion.
3 Enzymes used to assist drug delivery: Some drugs need to penetrate deeper tissues for better action. For this, some enzymes are used along with drugs in intra-muscular injection forms to help proper penetration of tissues. One of such enzymes is Hyaluronidase.
This is a natural human enzyme present in human sperm to help sperm penetrate uterine tissue and fertilize with ova. Here the same enzyme is manufactured by rDNA technology and administered along with drugs to enable efficient drug delivery to the target site.
4 Enzymes to diagnose disorders: Enzymes of the liver, kidney, skeletal muscle, heart, etc. leak into blood during related disorders. Measuring the levels of the corresponding enzyme for their presence in high or low levels in blood indicates the specific disorder.
Ex: Creatine kinase for muscle weakness and injury.
5 Enzymes used in the manufacture of medicines: Immobilized enzymes are used in the manufacture of many drugs and anti-biotic.This is possible as enzymes convert the pro-drug molecules to drugs or starting material to drugs. Also, steroidal drugs are manufactured by enzyme action on plant steroids.
6. Enzymes used in toothpaste: Enzymes of papaya and pineapple are used in toothpaste. They are found to remove the stain on teeth to give white and sparkling teeth.
Refer application of immobilized enzymes for details.
Industrial enzymes and their applications
Enzymes are used in few industries for different purposes like improvement in product, ease of production, etc.
Enzymes in the food industry:
Uses of enzymes in the food industry are to process carbohydrates, proteins & fats. The chief enzymes in food processing include
1) Amylase, lactases, cellulases are enzymes used to break complex sugars into simple sugars. They are used to mainly breakdown starch and cellulose into simple sugars like glucose. Lactase is enzymes used to break lactose sugars from foods as lactose can be intolerant to some people.
2) Pectinase like enzymes which act on hard pectin is used in fruit juice manufacture. Pectinase breaks pectin making juice less viscous.
3) Lipase enzymes act on lipids to break them in fatty acids and glycerol. This can be used in the baking industry. Yet fatty acids and glycerol obtained can be used in making soaps.
Applications of enzymes in the leather industry:
The leather is obtained from the skin of animals. The leather after being removed becomes hard due to denaturation of proteins and also the fats present in it. To obtain smooth and soft leather one need to remove the hair on the skin and also these proteins and fats in between the leather. This can be done by using enzymes like proteases and lipases.
Role of enzymes in cloth or textile industry:
Cloth or textile are made of mostly cotton, wool or synthetic polymers. Natural cotton fabric is not as smooth and glossy. To give them a smoothness and glossy appearance, enzymes like cellulase are used. Further, the fabric size or thread thickness is controlled by treating with these amylase enzymes.
Catalase is used to remove any hydrogen peroxide residues after bleaching.
Enzymes in detergent and washing (household enzymes)
Clothes get soiled by stains of protein, oil or other substances. To remove these hard stains besides lather forming soap, some enzymes are incorporated in detergents.
Protease enzymes are used to remove stains of protein nature like blood, sweat, etc.
Lipases are used to remove stains of grease, oils, butter, etc.
Amylase is an enzyme which can break carbohydrate stains like that of chocolate, curries, etc.