Researchers at Roslin Technologies in Edinburgh have genetically modified chickens which can lay eggs containing drugs that can combat certain cancer types as well as arthritis. The researchers believe that in time this kind of poultry farming can be scaled up to produce these medicines in commercial quantities.
The human body becomes susceptible to certain forms of disease when it is lacking in certain chemicals or proteins. These illnesses have traditionally been fought using pharmaceutical medication that contain the deficient protein or chemical. However, the Roslin team was able to add a human gene into part of the chicken DNA involved in producing the white portion of the egg that enabled it to serve the same function as pharmaceutical drugs.
So far the team’s work has been focused on the proteins IFNalpha2a — which has strong anti-cancer and antiviral properties — and macrophage-CSF — which helps damaged tissue repair itself. Three eggs are enough to equal to a single dose.
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“We are not yet producing medicines for people, but this study shows that chickens are commercially viable for producing proteins suitable for drug discovery studies and other applications in biotechnology,” says Professor Helen Sang.
Previously, scientists have genetically modified goats, rabbits and chickens to produce protein therapies in their milk and eggs. However, it is believed this latest approach is more efficient and produces better yields than previous attempts.
“Production from chickens can cost anywhere from 10 to 100 times less than the factories. So hopefully we’ll be looking at at least 10 times lower overall manufacturing cost” said Dr Lissa Herron. This is because chicken sheds are far cheaper to build than highly sterile factory production units.
The Roslin Technologies team believes these eggs can also be used to develop veterinary medication.
“For example, we could use it in regenerating the liver or the kidneys of a pet that has suffered damage to these organs. The drugs currently available are a bit too pricey so we hope that we might be able to get into that a little more,” says Dr Herron.