Genetically modified (GM) chickens can produce human proteins in their eggs, which might provide a cost-effective solution to producing certain types of drugs, according to a study released on Monday by the University of Edinburgh.
Eggs are already used for growing viruses that are used as vaccines, such as the flu jab. This new approach is different because the therapeutic proteins are encoded in the chicken's DNA and produced as part of the egg white, according to the study.
Protein-based drugs are widely used for treating cancer and other diseases, but some of them are expensive and hard to produce using current methods.
In this study, high quantities of the proteins can be recovered from each egg using a simple purification system. The findings provide sound evidence for using chickens as a cheap method of producing high quality drugs for use in research studies and, potentially one day, in patients, the team said.
The team have initially focused on two proteins: a human protein called IFNalpha2a, and the human and pig versions of a protein called macrophage-CSF. They are essential to the immune system and have therapeutic potential.
"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 Professor Helen Sang, from University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute.
The study has been published in the journal BMC Biotechnology.