Genetic engineering breakthrough turns chickens into egg laying medicine factories

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Being able to produce drugs and medicines cheaply is important, and this breakthrough breaks grounds on all kinds of fronts.

 

Ordinarily, when scientists want to produce proteins to use in medicine they have to use techniques that are costly and complex. Recently, however, in an ode to gene editing, which we’re increasingly starting to use to help us bio-manufacture products, which includes everything from animal free meat to beer, and even artificial human organs, Scottish researchers have created genetically modified hens that simply lay eggs containing significant quantities of the proteins they need.

 

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The at the University of Edinburgh have been focusing on producing two proteins in this way. The first, a human protein known as IFNalpha2a, has powerful antiviral and anti-cancer effects, and the second, Macrophage-CSF, has been shown to stimulate damaged tissues to repair themselves.

Once the hens lay their eggs a simple purification system is then used to extract the proteins from the whites of them, and at the moment the researchers need just three eggs to obtain clinically relevant amounts of the proteins.

Given that chickens lay about 300 eggs annually, it is believed that the technology would be less expensive than current lower yield techniques, such as growing the proteins in mammalian cell cultures, or other approaches that require complex purification systems and more processing. And although previous studies have used genetically-modified goats, rabbits and chickens to produce therapeutic proteins in their milk or eggs, the Edinburgh hen system is reportedly more efficient, cost-effective and higher-yield.

 

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“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,” says team member Prof. Helen Sang.

The technology is being commercially developed via the university’s Roslin Technologies division, and is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal BMC Biotechnology.

Source: University of Edinburgh

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