Genetically modified chickens might be the future of drug making, study says

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have genetically modified hens which produce two kinds of human proteins in their eggs. These proteins might offer an economical way of producing certain medicines.

The findings were published in the journal BMC Biotechnology. The research team modified the genomes of the chickens to get large amounts of high-quality proteins in their eggs.

According to scientists, just 3 eggs comprise a clinically significant dose. They believe that the research will one day lead to lifesaving drugs that are cheaper to make.

Research team modified the hens genetically so that they produced a human protein. These proteins were IFNalpha2a having both anti-cancer and anti-viral properties, and macrophage-CSF, which is being developed as a therapy to initiate damaged tissue to repair itself.

Chickens can  produce proteins cheaply

An adequate dose of protein was produced in the white of just 3 eggs and actually, hens can lay up to 300 per year.

There are certain kinds of drugs which rely on human proteins. These drugs unsurprisingly can be both expensive and time-consuming to produce artificially. Currently, these proteins are produced by mammalian cells which have been cultured in the lab, so a simpler solution is very desirable.

According to scientists, the living system is required to manufacture these proteins. This is because proteins are very large, very complex molecules. Moreover, they need all of the cellular machinery to make and fold them appropriately.

Scientists have managed to produce these human proteins in eggs of the hen. For instance, a Japanese research team got hens to lay eggs comprising a protein used to treat MS last year. But the scientists behind the latest study propose that their approach is more effective. It produces better yields and is much cheaper than former techniques.

In the latest study, scientists had bred five generations of hens. And each generation had produced good concentrations of medicines. In fact, they added, the method could be used with a range of genes so that chickens could produce different drugs for a number of diseases. For instance from Parkinson’s to diabetes and other types of cancer.

Future prospects of the study

At present, the proteins produced by the chickens won’t be used in drugs, but in the future, they could be. The present study shows that the idea is practical. But more research will be required before the proteins can actually be used clinically. Furthermore, they could be used to produce veterinary drugs to treat livestock as well as for research purposes.

The scientists also keep cockerels. Thus, allowing their GM chickens to reproduce and generate the next generations of transgenic chickens.

According to scientists, more birds are needed to get more eggs. So if we want to bulk up the drug supply, a lot of hens can be produced in a short period.

Also, genetic alteration has no effect on the health or wellbeing of chickens. Hence, they live in better circumstances than much of the poultry.

Therefore, scientists wanted to develop this technology to its full potential, not only for human therapeutics but also in the fields of research and animal health in the future.


Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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