Genetically-modified eggs contain cancer drugs

January 29, 2019

Genetic modification of an animal involves altering its existing genetic material to introduce new traits, such as disease resistance. Much research has gone into the possibilities of genetic modification to help our health.

A new scientific development has genetically-modified (GM) chickens lay drug-filled eggs of medicinal value. Previously, scientists have shown that genetically-modified goats can be used to produce protein therapies in their milk. A similar approach is used with chickens, only to produce eggs with drugs for ailments such as arthritis or cancer, and is considered more efficient and cost-effective than these previous attempts.

Dr. Lissa Herron of Roslin Technologies, Edinburgh, and her team managed to insert a human gene -normally for protein production in the body – into the part of the chickens’ DNA that produces the white in chickens’ eggs. The chickens lay eggs as normal, and have quite a “pampered” life compared to other farm animals. Upon cracking the eggs and separating the white from the yolk, Dr. Herron found that the chicken eggs had relatively large quantities of a much-needed protein.

The research team has focused on two proteins essential to the immune system: one with powerful antiviral and anti-cancer effects and the other is a macrophage, which stimulates damaged tissues to repair themselves.

A variety of diseases are caused because the body lacks a certain chemical or protein, then needing drugs that contain the deficient protein to aid bodily supply. But, many such drugs are synthetically produced by pharmaceutical companies and can be very expensive.

With the chicken eggs, three are enough to produce a dose of the necessary drug, and chickens can lay up to 300 eggs per year. With enough chickens, the researchers believe they can produce drugs in commercial quantities in due time. The drugs are cheaper to produce when laid as compared to drugs manufactured in factories. A chicken shed is also far cheaper to build and run than the highly sterile-clean rooms required for factory production. Dr. Herron hopes to lower the overall manufacturing cost with all these savings.

The researchers hope to use chickens to develop drugs firstly for animal health. These include drugs which boost the immune systems of farm animals as an alternative to antibiotics, thus reducing the risk of the development of new strains of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Dr. Herron has also said that the healing properties of the macrophage protein can potentially be used to treat pets, for instance, when there is damage to organs. The current treatment drugs are expensive, so regeneration of damaged organs with the new protein is more feasible.

However, the development of chicken-egg drugs for human health, with proper regulation, will take time – between 10 and 20 years.  Professor Helen Sang, of the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, has mentioned that the study shows that chickens are commercially viable for producing proteins. The approach is suitable for drug discovery studies and other applications in biotechnology.

Note that the eggs are produced only for research purposes and are not on sale in supermarkets.

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Category: Features, Health alert

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