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January 29, 2019 - Researchers at Scotland’s Roslin Institute have genetically modified chickens to produce human proteins in their eggs. Production from chickens can cost anywhere from 10 to 100 times less than in factories.
The study found that high quantities of the proteins can be recovered from each egg using a simple purification system and there are no adverse effects on the chickens themselves, which lay eggs as usual. The therapeutic proteins are encoded in the chicken’s DNA and produced as part of the egg white.
The research published in BMC Biotechnology finds sound evidence for using chickens as a cheap method of producing high-quality drugs that work at least as well as the same proteins produced using existing laboratory methods.
The team at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Roslin Technologies initially focused on two proteins that are essential to the immune system and have therapeutic potential -- a human protein called IFNalpha2a, which has potent antiviral and anti-cancer effects, and a protein called macrophage-CSF, which is being developed as a therapy that stimulates damaged tissues to repair themselves.
Hens can produce 15 to 50 micrograms of the target protein per millilitre of egg white -- just three eggs were enough to provide a clinically relevant dose of the drug. As chickens can lay up to 300 eggs per year, researchers say their approach could be more cost-effective than other production methods for some crucial medicines.
Professor Helen Sang, of the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, said: “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.”