Meet chickens laying eggs containing cancer drugs

In order to fight off diseases like cancer, scientists have genetically modified chickens to lay eggs containing cancer-killing chemicals.

Scientists have found that genetically modified chickens that produce human proteins in their eggs can offer a cost-effective method of manufacturing drugs for treating cancer. The human protein IFNalpha2a, has powerful anticancer and antiviral effects, while the human and pig versions of the protein called macrophage-CSF, is being developed as a therapy that stimulates damaged tissues to fix themselves.

"Production from chickens can cost anywhere from 10 to 100 times less than the factories", researcher Lissa Herron told the BBC.

If you're anxious about the chickens' welfare - the genetic modification has no impact on their health or wellbeing, and they live in nicer conditions than much of the poultry we farm for meat and eggs.

After cracking the eggs and separating the white from the yoke, Dr Herron discovered that the chicken had relatively large quantities of the protein. "Chickens have closely-related glycosylation patterns to humans, which may result in reduced immunogenicity of biologics from egg white, as well as improving functionality of proteins where glycosylation is required for activity", it adds.

Three eggs were enough to produce an adequate dosage, with hens able to lay up to 300 eggs a year.

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Besides, Herron said that the genetic modification does not affect health of the chickens in any way, and as far as they know, they are just laying normal eggs.

For most of these protein drugs, the best method of producing them with sufficient quality uses mammalian cell culture techniques that are usually expensive with low yields.

Researchers in Scotland say it will take 10 to 20 years to go through the regulatory process to make these types of medicines available for patients. The researchers are hopeful of using chickens to develop drugs for animal health. They are essential to the immune system and have therapeutic potential.

"For example, we could use it in regenerating the liver or the kidneys of a pet that has suffered damage to these organs".

"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", said Roslin Institute professor Helen Sang in a University of Edinburgh press release.

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