Researchers in Japan genetically engineered chickens to produce eggs that contain drugs capable of fighting diseases. The work may eventually reduce the cost of treatment for some illnesses.
Interferon beta is a type of protein used as treatment for malignant skin cancer and hepatitis. If scientists can safely produce this protein by rearing hens, the exorbitant price of the drug for these conditions may significantly drop.
To produce the protein, researchers introduced interferon beta-producing genes into cells that are precursors of chicken sperm. The cells then fertilized eggs and created hens that inherited the genes. This means that the birds were able to lay eggs that contain the disease-fighting agent. Scientists now have three hens that lay eggs containing the drug. The birds also lay eggs almost every day.
Drugs From Eggs May Reduce Costs Of Cancer, Hepatitis Treatment
The researchers want to sell the drug to pharmaceutical companies at half the price so the companies can use it as a research material. The scientists also hope that the technology may eventually reduce the cost of the drug to about 10 percent of its current price.
"This is a result that we hope leads to the development of cheap drugs," Hironobu Hojo, from Osaka University said. "In the future, it will be necessary to closely examine the characteristics of the agents contained in the eggs and determine their safety as pharmaceutical products."
Using Eggs To Produce Drugs
This is not the first time that eggs are used to produce drugs. In 2007, the researchers that cloned Dolly the sheep also genetically engineered hens that laid eggs containing medicinal proteins similar to drugs used to treat patients with skin cancer, multiple sclerosis and arthritis. The birds produced the drugs in their egg whites.
In 2015, researchers also developed a natural supplement from the yolks of chicken eggs that can help people who suffer from celiac disease. The supplement prevents absorption of gliadin, the protein that celiac disease sufferers have trouble digesting and the component of gluten that causes damage to the absorptive surface of the small intestine.
Once the supplement is taken, the antibodies found in the egg yolk coat gluten when it passes through the digestive tract, preventing the stimulation of gluten receptors in the small intestine.
Chicken eggs offer a better way of producing drugs than other genetically modified products because chickens are easy to raise, cheap to keep and produce numerous eggs.